Malden residents impacted by the devastating fire last fall are able to apply for loans through the Small Business Administration until April 12.
The SBA approved a disaster declaration for Whitman County on Feb. 9, not long after the county’s request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individual assistance was denied, Malden Mayor Dan Harwood said.
Aside from Whitman County, the declaration also includes surrounding counties such as Adams, Sutton, Columbia, Franklin and Garfield, said Cynthia Cowell, SBA public information officer.
People who qualify for loans have a chance to rebuild at a very low-interest rate. Interest rates could be as low as 1.18 percent for homeowners and renters and 3 percent for businesses, she said.
“That’s a pretty decent rate, even in today’s world,” Harwood said.
The disaster declaration covers businesses of all sizes, including private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters. The SBA opened its first Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center to help people interested in applying for loans, Cowell said.
A lot of people are uninsured or underinsured. The SBA can give them loans of up to $200,000 for a home and $2 million for a business. Economic injury disaster loans are available to business owners who may have suffered economic loss, she said.
Homeowners and renters may be eligible for personal property loans up to $40,000. Those loans cover things people take when they move out of a house, like cars, furniture, clothes and some appliances. Cowell said the SBA also provides mitigation measures to homeowners to help them prepare for the next fire season.
“A lot of people will say, ‘I know I’ll never qualify for a loan, we’re in the middle of COVID,’ and my suggestion would be go ahead and apply,” Cowell said. “It doesn’t ding your credit … then we can determine if we can help you, and in most cases we can.”
The SBA does not offer loans to farmers. Farmers need to talk to the United States Department of Agriculture for assistance, she said.
Cowell said it is important people use their insurance money first. The SBA cannot duplicate what insurance will pay people, but it can supplement it up to the damage amount of the house.
“For most people, things are tough right now and so we offer people who probably couldn’t afford the higher rates the low rates, and that’s one of the ways that we differ from banks,” she said.
Harwood said he is encouraging everyone who is eligible to apply for loans. If someone does not have the ability to repay the loans and gets turned down from the SBA, there is another assistance available to them.
Currently, an Amish group is building two homes for individuals in town. Harwood said everyone is coming together as a community and that people will receive the help they need.
“When folks go through a traumatic experience, there’s multiple levels of recovery folks go through: denial, anger and depression,” he said.
The fire that tore through Malden was fairly unique because of the large number of homes destroyed, he said.
Harwood said he wants to reach out and thank everyone who assisted the town of Malden during this time, whether that be the Department of Commerce or someone who donated $5.
“There is no way for us to thank everybody,” he said. “We want everyone to know just how much we do appreciate their assistance and thinking about us.”