Federal help after Harvey outlined to Texas churches

by Jane Rodgers/Southern Baptist TEXAN, posted Tuesday, October 10, 2017 (13 days ago)

VIDOR, Texas (BP) -- While FEMA money is not generally accessible to churches, disaster recovery help from the federal government is available in the form of low-interest loans, Susheel Kumar, public information officer for the Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance, told Texas pastors and church staff Oct. 5 in the Golden Triangle Baptist Network.

Susheel Kumar, public information officer for the Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance, tells Texas pastors and church staff in the Golden Triangle Baptist Network of possible federal assistance after Hurricane Harvey.
Photo by Jane Rodgers
Network acting director Mark Adams of Beaumont's First Baptist Church called Kumar's information both "critical" and "time-sensitive."

"The Small Business Administration really is the only source of [federal government] funds for churches," Kumar told nearly 30 attendees at First Baptist Church in Vidor.

Calling his presentation "church specific," Kumar reminded the group they are "in the church business."

Two types of SBA disaster recovery loans available to churches are Business Physical Disaster Loans to assist in recovering from physical damage (such as loss of pews, carpets, facilities) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans to assist in recovery from economic losses related to the disaster (such as the loss of income caused by church closures or disruptions in services such as a church daycare).

The deadline to apply for SBA Business Physical Disaster Loans related to Hurricane Harvey is Oct. 24, 2017, 60 days after President Trump declared Harvey a disaster, Kumar said.

SBA applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans have a May 25, 2018, deadline.

The maximum loan amount any qualified church or business may receive for physical damages is $2 million at a 2.5 percent fixed interest rate amortized over a maximum of 30 years, Kumar said, noting that the first loan payment would not be due for a year. Economic disaster loans are similarly structured.

"No fees, no points, no closing costs," Kumar said, advising attendees from affected churches to visit the SBA's customized center for businesses and nonprofits at Lamar University in Beaumont and meet with Dave Mulcahy, director of the Small Business Development Center there.

Mulcahy and staff can assist with the loan application, including helping churches with necessary documentation, Kumar said, providing Mulcahy's phone and address to the group:

Dave Mulcahy

Director -- Lamar University -- Small Business Development Center

5091 Rolfe Christopher Dr. -- Room 130 (CICE Building)

Beaumont, TX 77705

Phone -- 409-880-2367

Email -- sbdc@lamar.edu

The technical assistance to churches and businesses offered by the Small Business Development Centers, "resource partners" of the Small Business Adminstration, is "second to none," Kumar told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, adding that the centers are located throughout the nation, with many in Texas in counties affected by Harvey.

A complete listing of SBDCs may be found at http://americassbdc.org.

SBA disaster loan applications also may be submitted online at www.sba.gov/disaster. The website contains information including lists of counties in Texas and Louisiana eligible for SBA loans related to Harvey. Emailed inquiries may be directed to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

"My heart goes out to you folks," Kumar said. "Words escape me. It's horrific. The best I can do is to facilitate the road to recovery."

While SBA loans are the main source of government assistance to churches, some FEMA assistance is possible for churches providing social services like adult daycare or food programs, Lanie Brown of the office of U.S. Rep. Brian Babin informed the Golden Triangle group, saying that her office had received the information only days before.

"Historically, FEMA has not helped with any faith-based outreaches, but this time they are offering public assistance to those groups," Brown said, urging churches with programs like food pantries, homeless shelters, schools, daycares and mother's day outs to file for FEMA public assistance grants before the Oct. 31 deadline.

"It's worth a shot," Brown said.

A Sept. 28, 2017, FEMA news release (NR-032) confirms Brown's statements that FEMA assistance is extended to faith-based organizations and features a list of types of eligible private institutions.

FEMA may also reimburse the costs of "emergency protective services" like "sheltering and feeding survivors on behalf of state, local, tribal, or territorial governments." Such reimbursement requires an "agreement" between the government and the organization, but such an agreement could be "post-event."

Eligible organizations must have state or IRS tax-exempt status and must first apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the SBA before being considered for a FEMA public assistance grant for the costs of repair or replacement not covered by SBA loans.

The idea is to help service providers, faith-based and otherwise, "get back to the business of helping others," the news release stated.

For additional information on FEMA assistance and its Oct. 31 deadline, see https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/09/28/faith-based-voluntary-and-nonprofit-organizations-may-be-eligible-fema.

Brown added that church and school libraries that lost books during the disaster may be eligible for help from the Library of Congress.

"I don't know how the communities would survive without the churches and the shelters," Brown said, expressing appreciation for the work of local churches in the wake of disaster. "You are offering not just prayers and comfort but also help on a practical level."

Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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