The city’s Revolving Loan Fund met briefly Thursday morning to forgive loans given to local small businesses during the pandemic.

The RLF committee in 2020 and 2021 gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars in “loans” to local small businesses, money meant to bolster them through the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In total, they gave way roughly $400,000 to dozens of applicants. The money was from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ then revamped Community Development Block Grant Program, one designed to help cities and counties offer money to small businesses during the pandemic, among other related services.

“We forgave all those loans today,” said Mayor Joe Yochum following the brief meeting. “It took all of 45 seconds.

“I don’t think any of us ever expected that anyone would actually have to pay it back, but now it’s officially forgiven. And they don’t have to worry about it.”

The RLF committee last met concerning the COVID loans in the fall of 2021, giving away their last $70,000 to just over 20 applicants.

The committee had been charged with handing out some $150,000 as part of a second round of awarded funding from OCRA.

The summer before, the committee, in one fell swoop, gave away $90,000 to nearly 30 applicants.

During that second round, the last few applicants actually put the committee over the $150,000 it had to spend, so they agreed to take $8,000 from the RLF itself to make up the difference.

They’d received the second round of funding in the spring of 2021, $250,000 from the state that was divided between the loan program — offering applicants anywhere from $2,000 up to $10,000 depending on the number of employees they had — and the city’s local food pantries.

It took them just two rounds and two months to give away the $150,000 set aside for local business loans.

By comparison, it took nearly ten rounds and more than a year to award the first pot of $250,000 given to the city early in 2020 by OCRA.

Applicants were initially slow to come forward; city officials took to literally recruiting businesses to apply and dispelling rumors that it was somehow a complicated, time-consuming process.

But as more and more came forward — and as word spread — the mayor said additional businesses expressed interest, some of them even applying for a second time.

“Eventually they figured it out it was literally free money,” the mayor said on Thursday.

The county, too, gave away $250,000 in mini-grants to county businesses last year then sought additional monies as part of OCRA’s third round of funding, partnering with Helping His Hands Disaster Response.

The county was successful in securing another $250,000, and all of it went to HHH. Among the expenses cited by the non-profit were the purchase or repair of food pantry equipment as well as a new truck to pull its mobile food pantry as well as payroll needs.

County officials have not yet officially forgiven those loans.
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