While all businesses are bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s economic backlash, truly small businesses are hardest hit. A coalition of not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions is working together to distribute relief grants, which qualified small businesses will not have to pay back.
Out of concern that very small businesses — those with fewer than 25 employees — were left behind by federal COVID-19 relief packages, the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown set aside $5 million, asking Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to process the applications and issue the grants.
Four credit unions with CDFI designation — Consolidated Community, Trailhead, Point West, and Central Willamette — stepped up and will fund grants ranging from $2,500 to $12,500.
“Collectively, our goal was to provide support to small businesses throughout Oregon that have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Larry Ellifritz, president/CEO, Consolidated Community Credit Union. “This is a great collaborative effort to make a difference for businesses.”
Only hours after the application process opened, an antique shop, a variety store, a consulting business, and a non-profit theater received funding from Consolidated Community CU.
The State of Oregon’s program designed the grants for historically disadvantaged businesses in every corner of the state, with particular focus on business owners who are Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, or women.
“Point West is committed to helping small businesses, especially those owned by people of color, adversely impacted by the unprecedented economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Amy Nelson, the credit union’s CEO. “These grants will deliver a much-needed infusion of capital to help support these businesses and the communities they serve.”
Along with businesses of up to 25 employees, sole proprietorships also are eligible for the funding.
“With over 260,000 sole proprietors in the state, ensuring they have support through COVID-19 is critical to Oregon’s economic outlook,” said Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, president and chief executive officer of Albany-based Central Willamette Credit Union. “These types of businesses are very small, so grant funds are impactful and sustaining.”
As not-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions’ “DNA” is putting the needs of people and communities first. The four credit unions will use the grant funding to help not only their members, but will encourage referrals from other credit unions or directly from the business owners. Business owners do not need to be credit union members to apply.
“Credit unions are well positioned to help the truly small businesses in rural communities, and minority owned businesses, to receive these grants,” said Troy Stang, president/CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association.