Athol: COVID-19 loan programs still largely ignored

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 2/11/2021 1:47:07 PM
Modified: 2/11/2021 1:47:05 PM

ATHOL — The Downtown Vitality Committee last week again discussed help that is available to assist local businesses soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. While help is available, however, small business owners in Athol and surrounding towns have failed to apply to either of two programs offering a total of $325,000 in small loans and grants.

“We have these different business assistance programs,” said Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith. “We’ve actually been using these meetings to promote some of these programs that aren’t even necessarily focused only on downtown.

“One of the programs is the COVID-19 small business loan Rapid Response Fund. We actually closed on our first loan — it wasn’t a downtown business, but it was an Athol business — just a week or so ago.”

That first loan was just made, even though the loan program has been in existence since mid-2020.

“That program was actually approved by the Selectmen back in May and really got off the ground in July,” said Smith. “So, it’s taken a while to get interest in it and it took us a while to work out the kinks, but we have it in place now, so I think it will go smoother for anybody else who applies.”

Committee Chair Mary Holtorf said she would once again make the rounds to downtown businesses to distribute flyers that provide details of the loan program.

The COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund was created when the Selectboard approved an injection of $25,000 from the North Quabbin Revolving Loan Fund. The purpose is to assist small businesses in the nine-town North Quabbin area that have been impacted by the pandemic. Small business is defined, in this case, as any enterprise with fewer than 10 full-time employees.

The fund makes microloans of anywhere between $500 and $2,500 available to applicants. The loans carry a low interest rate of 2.99 percent and can be repaid over a period of 12 to 24 months.

There is no application fee, and the first loan payment is deferred for 60 days.

Businesses in Athol, Erving, New Salem, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, Warwick, and Wendell are eligible.

Those seeking loans through the Rapid Response Fund must have been in operation as of March 1, 2020 and provide self-certification for meeting local and state re-opening protocols. Loans must be used for such purposes as technical assistance, costs related to re-opening, planning, the purchase of PPE (personal protective equipment), updating fiscal systems.

The applicant must have a FICO credit score of 600, or more, and may provide a copy of their own credit profile for documentation. No collateral is necessary, but the applicant must provide a personal guarantee of repayment. Once an application has been submitted, a decision on the loan should be made within three weeks.

Another assistance program provides direct grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses in Athol, Phillipston, Templeton, and Winchendon. Money for the program comes from a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant which the four towns had applied for jointly. It is being administered by NewVue Communities of Fitchburg. Because assistance comes in the form of a grant, repayment is not expected.

Grant monies may not be used to make capital improvements but can be dedicated to items like rent, utilities, insurances, computer upgrades, and other “soft costs.”

Eligible businesses can have up to five employees, including the owner or owners, at the time the application is submitted. The owner(s) also must have a family income equal to or less than 80 percent of the median family income for their town.

To learn more, go to https://newvuecommunities.org/aptwmap/. Businesses interested in obtaining a grant should contact Bill Brassard at NewVue Communities at 978-288-0180 or bbrassard@nvcomm.org.

More information on either program is available on the website of the North Quabbin Community Coalition: http://www.nqcc.org/.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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