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story.lead_photo.caption Local entrepreneurs and members of the Callaway Chamber of Commerce and Central Missouri Community Action gather to cut the ribbon for the Missouri Women's Business Center. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

As small businesses scramble, Missouri organizations are sharing information and resources to help businesses survive the economic hit of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Women's Business Center, which has an office in Fulton, hosted a webinar to help business owners understand how to get a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The low-interest federal loans are available for small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the webinar, center director Jessie Yankee walked virtual attendees through the loan application.

"Before we begin any of this, try not to panic," Yankee said, outlining a few preliminary questions  business owners should ask themselves, such as identifying what they need to survive the next 30-60 days and whether they can do so without taking on additional debt.

Before applying for disaster loans, Yankee suggests talking to the bank and reaching out to a "resource partner," such as a women's business center or a local economic development agency.

Yankee noted a disaster loan might not be the best choice for every business and advised looking into alternate funding sources, such as Kiva, a nonprofit that crowdfunds loans.

The SBA loans are available for businesses with less than 500 employees after disasters like tornadoes strike. Due to the far-reaching effects of COVID-19, they're currently available in Missouri. The SBA will not approve every applicant as decisions will be based on credit history and the SBA's assessment of the business's ability to repay the loan.

Eligible businesses may qualify for up to $2 million in loans, with interest rates set at 3.75 percent. Yankee emphasized the loans are not meant to replace profits — they'll only cover what's necessary to keep a business's doors open. The loans can be used to pay for fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that would have been paid if the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred.

To work through the paperwork for a disaster loan, businesses will need documentation and financial information — everything from the business's official legal name to assets, debts and liabilities.

A video of the webinar content is available on the Missouri Women's Business Center Facebook page.

At 1 p.m. today, the Callaway Chamber of Commerce and the University of Missouri Extension Small Business Development Center will host a similar webinar using Zoom. More information is available at bit.ly/2WI5dS4.

"We've had a lot of questions from a lot of our businesses," Callaway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tamara Tateosian said. "That topic has come up over and over again."

The chamber's webinar, which will feature Missouri Development Center State Director Greg Tucker, is meant to help give businesses the information they need to determine whether a disaster loan is right for them and what they need to know to apply for one.

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