SPRINGFIELD — An agency funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has stepped forward to help small businesses in Lane County and beyond.

Community LendingWorks has joined county and city officials to offer immediate loans of up to $30,000 at 2% interest to small businesses suffering because of the pandemic lockdown.

When federal emergency business loans ran dry April 16, anxiety surged. Now, small businesses are leaning more heavily on city and county governments.

The first round of Community LendingWorks loans went to 19 owners in Eugene and Springfield. That’s the good news. The bad news is that 200 businesses applied before funds ran out.

In Albany, 14 businesses received aid. Yachats, Creswell, Cottage Grove and Corvallis are now in talks with Community LendingWorks to operate similar programs. Jurisdictions provide the money and Community LendingWorks administers the loans.

“Business owners are working around the clock to respond to the crisis, protect public health, and save their companies,” Emily Reiman, CEO of Springfield-based Community LendingWorks, said during a March 19 press conference announcing the program. “They are facing 100 tough choices every day, with very few resources to help them.”

Community LendingWorks received a $75,000 national Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant in 2019.

The organization, known for keeping administrative costs low, will defer repayment of the business loans for six months and then collect gradually as the economy recovers.

“This virus has shown us that we’re dependent on each other,” Reiman said. “We know it’s time to pull together, and help our community pull through this crisis.”

The aim is to help businesses stay open, or at least be able to rehire workers as soon as possible. Reiman knows the loans are not enough to maintain business as usual. She called the program a first “concrete step.” The program came together in three days.   

“It’s been fast and furious,” said Lynn Meyer, director of lending at Community LendingWorks. More cities keep asking for help and Meyer is not sure he has the staff to do it all.

Another Catholic project, Save First Financial Wellness in Portland, also offers loans. Save First, a Catholic Charities program that offers financial coaches for low-income clients, got a boost earlier this year when the Oregon Community Foundation invested $500,000 for a small loan fund operated in partnership with Community LendingWorks. Single mothers are the most frequent recipient of the loans and coaching but anyone can apply.

Save First also helps businesses administer emergency funds for employees, a need that has soared amid the coronavirus.

edl@catholicsentinel.org