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Groups call on Congress to treat rural, urban businesses equally

LYONS, NEBRASKA –  As lawmakers consider legislation to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of 64 small business lenders across 32 states are calling on Congress to treat rural and urban businesses equally when it comes to providing relief.

While the recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act created a program that provides immediate relief to small businesses with loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA), there was no such provision for those who have loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).

In a letter to Congress, the group is requesting that any new legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic include six months of principal, interest, and fee payment relief for RMAP borrowers, similar to that already granted to businesses who borrow through SBA.

“We believe these small business borrowers should be treated equally,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director with the Center for Rural Affairs. “The majority of these business owners are in the service industry, which has been severely damaged by the coronavirus pandemic. They should not be ignored just because they are rural.”

RMAP, which was first created as part of the 2008 farm bill, allows the USDA to coordinate with Microenterprise Development Organizations that provide training, assistance, and lending capital to rural entrepreneurs. To qualify for a loan, a business must be located in a rural area, unable to access loan capital from other sources, and have 10 or fewer employees.

Since 2008, RMAP has helped more than 2,100 small businesses expand operations, create new jobs, and tap into new markets. Loans have been made in nearly every state and in Puerto Rico.

In 2017, 18 nonprofit Microenterprise Development Organizations worked with the USDA to make 156 loans. Though the average amount was just under $28,000, this helped start 26 new businesses and create 286 new jobs. At least 60 of these loans were made to women and 153 to racial/ethnic minorities.

“This policy has the potential to change lives for more than 1,000 small business owners in rural America,” Hladik said. “We believe these individuals deserve the same opportunity as SBA borrowers, and should not be treated differently because their zip code is rural.”

Visit cfra.org/RMAPLetter to read the full letter.

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