Some of the people who have been hit hardest by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are also those who have the least amount of resources and funds available to them.
Point West Credit Union in Portland, Ore., is doing its part to assist undocumented immigrants through an emergency loan program.
The $94 million asset credit union has teamed up with the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, $120 million asset Trailhead Credit Union and $252 million asset Consolidated Community Credit Union, both in Portland, Ore., to offer emergency loans for those affected by the pandemic, including undocumented immigrants in the community.
Undocumented immigrants don’t have access to governmental support systems—stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, or Paycheck Protection Program funds—and often work in the hardest hit sectors of the economy such as home care, maintenance, hospitality, or food service.
“They’ve been thrown into the absolute deep end of the pandemic pool,” says Steve Pagenstecher, chief operations officer at Point West, which is a community development financial institution (CDFI) and Juntos Avanzamos credit union. “They’re struggling just like everyone else is, except they don’t have that support network to really lift them up financially.”
Point West, Trailhead, and Consolidated Community aim to provide that financial lift.
The credit unions offered 0% small dollar emergency loans to people who needed assistance. The program rolled out April 1 and within the first week Pagenstecher says Point West received 50 applications.
When Mary Vasquez, Point West’s community advocate, appeared on an online Spanish video network, interest in the program “blew up,” he says.
Point West received 220 applications—more than 10% from applicants who don’t live in the Point West membership area—in April and has funded 80 of those applications. Nearly half of the approved loan applicants are undocumented immigrants, and roughly half were not previously members of the credit union, Pagenstecher says.
The three credit unions funded $340,000 in loans, but Pagenstecher says the credit unions have had to stop the effort due to a lack of funds. The credit union continues to look for ways to assist these members.
The loans carry some risk. The credit unions don’t earn interest on the loans, and borrowers do not have to make payments for 90 days. But Pagenstecher says it’s a risk Point West is willing to take because of the assistance it offers members.
“This is what credit unions were designed to do—help people who don’t have access to financial services,” Pagenstecher says. “It’s a real opportunity for credit unions. Right now is the time to be here for everybody in our community.”