A Difficult Transition
At HFLA of Northeast Ohio, we are accustomed to being in-person and involved in our day-to-day work. Director of Program & Community Outreach, Katy Fuerst, regularly attends panels in collaboration with community partners, Relationship Manager, Brady Gasser, coordinates loan committee meetings with board members and potential borrowers twice a month, and Executive Director, Michal Marcus, regularly meets with partner organizations and community members, Development Coordinator, Hillary Butler, attends workshops and seminars, and Administrative Assistant, Chika Morkah, interacts with borrowers to process payments and provide in-person assistance at the office.
Due to the stay-at-home order, the small HFLA staff has been working remotely since March 20. The human element of what made our jobs and organization so unique had to be reworked in a way that could accommodate our method of interest-free relationship lending, but also accommodate our borrowers who may not have access to technology and the appropriate resources to submit loan application materials during the shutdown.
March 12, 2020, one day after Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, announced the closure of all Ohio Public Schools, HFLA responded with the $1,500 COVID-19 Emergency Loan. This interest-free emergency loan was designed to address the financial repercussions of those who would be directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that date, HFLA has received over 550 inquiries (approximately 26 inquiries per business day).
This demand for financial assistance has inundated the programmatic staff and has provided communication challenges for the office as a whole.
While still inundated, the HFLA staff refuses to slow down and continues to adapt to provide the most pressing resources to the community. Witnessing the immense toll that small businesses were taking due to the closures, HFLA was able to partner with the Burton D. Morgan Foundation to provide a limited amount of $5,000 Small Business Emergency Loans as well.
HFLA has disbursed 17 COVID-19 Emergency Loans and 3 Small Business Emergency Loans totaling $39,800 going towards individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as of (4/17/2020). While at the same time administering our regular needed loan program.
It is during this time that HFLA must remain an understanding resource for current borrowers. HFLA reduced loan payments for current borrowers to $10 a month (typical loan payments are between $100-$280 a month). While this leniency provides our clients with much needed financial relief during this difficult time, The reduction of repayments will affect the amount of money we have to recycle and relend in the community.
Aside from all of the COVID-19 response programming that HFLA has enacted over the past 3 weeks, it was decided too that the HFLA annual event would be cancelled and transitioned to a “virtual” event. Our annual event makes up approximately 25% of our annual budget, but HFLA could not responsibly consider putting our constituents in harm’s way.
Overall the situation has been trying, but inspiring. Everyday we are shown how strong, creative, and intelligent the staff at HFLA are, how devoted and responsive our HFLA supporters are, and how resilient and ingenuitive our borrowers can be.
As we tirelessly continue to provide the much needed financial resources to our Northeast Ohio community, we hope that our story inspires you to give to the organization whose mission and purpose speaks to you.