NEW BETHLEHEM — Six weeks after Leasure Run and other streams ripped through southern Clarion County, residents and businesses are still dealing with flood damage.
The area affected included portions of Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Forest, Jefferson and Venango counties. As a result of the limited geographical area impacted by the disaster, state and federal emergency management agencies were unable to fund much of the recovery effort.
Another federal agency, the Small Business Administration sent representatives to set up an assistance center inside the New Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department’s social hall until September 5. Better known for offering its expertise to new and established business owners, the SBA also provides disaster assistance in the form of low-interest loans to homeowners, too.
On Wednesday, Sana Nasir, a disaster recovery specialist for the agency, talked about what she and her team were doing for area residents.
“We do not write any loans or process any applications on-site,” she said. “We walk around a disaster area, get a sense of what happened and then talk to people who walk in seeking help.”
Nasir was the head of the three-person team tasked with keeping the flow of information going between local residents and the SBA regional headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. Towanda Dillard and John Afodofe, both customer services representatives, conducted intake interviews.
Aid applicants must meet several criteria before being approved for an SBA low-interest recovery loan. They must have acceptable credit scores, show an ability to repay the loans and must present collateral for loans above $25,000.
Interest rates range from 1.938 percent to 8 percent and depend on the availability of other credit to the applicant. Loan terms are usually set for 30 years, but certain businesses with access to alternative financing may be limited to seven years. The interest and terms are set by the SBA and are determined by an applicant’s ability to pay.
Loan applications are processed at SBA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and most local paperwork was still pending last Wednesday. Karen Knapik, public affairs specialist, was able to report that one area applicant had been approved for a $22,000 loan and that more are on the way.
In some cases, the SBA may lend funds for flood mitigation in the form of retaining walls or sump pumps, for example. But before any of that takes place, people such as Nasir and her team are a boots-on-the-ground presence for the agency.
“We just walk around the towns we are in, look at the damage, visit local businesses and talk to people,” she said last Wednesday. “We will be closing this assistance center Sept. 5, and then heading to the Philadelphia area to help people affected by wind damage there.”
Nasir and her team may have closed the New Bethlehem center, but she noted that residents affected by the July 19-20 flash flooding can still apply for aid.
“Residents now have until October 21, 2019, to apply for help,” she said. “Businesses looking for economic-injury help can apply through May 20, 2020.”
Applicants can still file online at www.disasterloan.sba/ela.