Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick on Thursday announced the launch of a new program designed to assist small-business owners and farmers who have been affected by natural disasters.
LIFT — Linked Deposits to Invest and Fund a Timely Recovery — will use linked deposits to partner with Missouri financial institutions to provide low-interest loans to impacted small businesses and farmers.
"All around us in Jefferson City, you can see evidence of nature's destruction," Fitzpatrick said. "As with many things, after the initial shock and awe those within the storm's path are left with the difficult task of rebuilding."
To assist those affected by the May 22 tornado and recent flooding, the new program will offer low-interest loans of up to $2 million, which is double the maximum amount of the existing Missouri FIRST program.
When using linked deposits, the treasurer's office places state funds with participating lenders to offset the funds provided through loans. More than 140 lenders are participating in the program across the state.
"Linked deposits allow the treasurer's office to invest directly in Missouri small businesses and farms, and LIFT is going to allow us to invest in their recovery," Fitzpatrick said. "We want those impacted by the storm and flooding to get back on their feet as quickly as possible."
The LIFT program also authorizes refinancing of funds for existing loans, maximum statutory discounts to lending institutions and approval of loans within 24 hours of an application.
Loan applicants must be within one of the counties in the state currently declared a major disaster zone by FEMA. As of July 9, 26 counties have received this designation. Fitzpatrick said counties will become qualified as they area added to the list. Cole, Boone, Miller and Osage counties are listed in the declaration, although nearby counties like Callaway, Cooper and Moniteau have yet to received the designation.
FEMA has agreed to consider expanding disaster assistance to residents in 21 additional counties that were denied in the July 9 declaration, according to a Thursday evening news release from Gov. Mike Parson's office. A timeframe was not released.
Fitzpatrick said 251 businesses have been assessed, and around 125 sustained major damage or were entirely destroyed by the May 22 tornado. In April, researchers found a loss of at least $15 million in revenue due to flooding for corn growers and another $9 million in losses for soybean farmers.
Andy Clay, a board member with the Missouri Farm Bureau, said he personally sustained loss at his family farm, but because his farm is in Montieau and Cooper counties, he currently is unable to apply for the program. However, he supports the program.
"Missouri's farming community has been hit hard by the flooding — but this program will provide some relief as farmers begin moving forward and looking to the future," Clay said in a news release. "The expanded opportunities in this program will certainly make it a useful tool for recovery."
The LIFT program expands on the existing Missouri FIRST program, which provides linked deposit-based, low-interest loans across Missouri. The main difference is that the new program focuses on disaster recovery.
To qualify for a loan, applicants must provide proof of damage or economic injury that occurred in 2019 through insurance documents, photographs or other documentation of property damage, among other things.
Those who receive assistance through the LIFT program are still eligible for other assistance such as insurance, federal assistance and other loans.
Dan Mehan, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the program is a good example of people coming together to help those in need after this year's natural disasters.
"It was a tough day for Jefferson City, and the year has been tough on our agriculture industry," Mehan said. "But it's great to see the private sector and public sector working in unison — government and business working together to try to have this recovery reach its true fruition."
Fitzpatrick is optimistic about Missouri's future.
"Missourians are determined people, and I know that people who have been impacted by this are going to rebound and they're going to rebuild and we'll be stronger than ever," he said.
Fitzpatrick said this program will run until the opportunity has been given to everyone who could benefit. However, it could be reinstated if a similar situation ever arises again, using a threshold of a FEMA-declared disaster.
Counties whose residents are eligible for the program are: Andrew, Atchison, Boone, Buchanan, Carroll, Chariton, Cole, Greene, Holt, Jackson, Jasper, Lafayette, Lincoln, Livingston, Miller, Mississippi, New Madrid, Osage, Pemiscot, Perry, Pike, Platte, Pulaski, Ray, St. Charles and St. Genevieve.
To seek a loan through this program, business owners and farmers should talk to a participating lender to apply. More information, including a list of participating lenders and full eligibility qualifications, can be found at treasurer.mo.gov.