Interest-free Loans Available to Help Jewish Atlanta

Interest-free Loans Available to Help Jewish Atlanta

COVID-19 may help raise the profile of the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta as it provides financial assistance to people in need.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“We’re raising awareness and making sure everybody knows about us has been a big priority. We’re here to help,” said JIFLA executive director Nancy Weissmann.
“We’re raising awareness and making sure everybody knows about us has been a big priority. We’re here to help,” said JIFLA executive director Nancy Weissmann.

A single man in his 40s lost his job in a COVID-19-related cutback and then an apartment building fire left him homeless, and all of his possessions, including his computer, destroyed. His rabbi suggested that he contact the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta. JIFLA was able to provide him with a $1,500 emergency loan, but also connected him with Jewish Family & Career Services for help with rent and purchasing groceries.

A couple in their 80s, who support themselves with income comes from a small business, lost their revenue stream to COVID-19. A neighbor told them about JIFLA and, even though they were reluctant to ask – “Jewish people shouldn’t need help” – JIFLA provided them with a $1,500 emergency loan.

Even as COVID-19 has sent financial shockwaves through the Jewish community, JIFLA, which recently marked its 10th anniversary, remains one of the lesser-known communal resources.

In the first round of grants from its COVID-19 emergency fund, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta gave JIFLA $174,000 to make loans to individuals hurting financially. Combined with $20,000 that the agency already had raised for its own COVID-19 emergency fund, JIFLA has more than $190,000 is available to those needing assistance. JIFLA loans are restricted to the Jewish community.

In her fourth year as JIFLA’s executive director, Nancy Weissmann is working to overcome the agency’s lack of identity. “We’re raising awareness and making sure everybody knows about us has been a big priority,” she said. “We’re here to help.”

Last year, JIFLA made nearly three dozen interest-free loans totaling some $140,000. The largest loan that JIFLA will make is for $7,500, while emergency loans to individuals, such as to the single man and the elderly couple impacted by COVID-19, can be for up to $1,500.

The emergency loans might cover anything from money to send the kids to Jewish summer camp or fix a collapsing deck or help buy a new air conditioner or make a car payment, Weissmann said.

At the time she spoke, Weissmann said JIFLA had 10 clients in various stages of the loan application process. Weissmann said that there may be a “wave of need coming” as the fallout from COVID-19 continues.

Weissmann pointed out that in the Torah — including Exodus 22:24, Leviticus 25: 35-38, and Deuteronomy 23:20 — there is a prohibition on charging interest when making a loan to someone in need. JIFLA does require that the loan be repaid, the length of time for repayment depending on the amount of money, either in lump sums or by monthly payments.

Weissmann said that 20 percent of JIFLA’s current borrowers received money before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that JIFLA is receiving requests from borrowers to defer payments, such as the physical therapist unable to work who requested a three-month deferral on payments.

COVID-19 has increased collaboration between organizations that assist members of the Jewish community, including between JIFLA and JF&CS, which are able to coordinate assistance with possible aid from both organizations. “This has been a real opportunity to see how we can work closely together,” Weissmann said. “This is a game-changer for the community. All of a sudden we have these programs that have been vetted and tested,” such as JIFLA and JF&CS, she said.

“We have been partnering with JIFLA for a number of years doing referrals back and forth as well as working together on particular cases,” JF&CS CEO Terri Bonoff and Faye Dresner, the agency’s chief impact officer, said in a statement. “Recently, we deepened our partnership with JIFLA to provide emergency financial assistance to the Jewish community together with a funder that has made this a top priority. As part of the grant, JF&CS hired two case managers. This allows us to provide those in need with immediate wrap-around services, and together with JIFLA where appropriate, packages of grants and loans to support their self-sufficiency. We believe the partnership with JIFLA adds value to what we can offer our clients in their journey towards health and well-being.”

COVID-19 did put one crimp in one piece of JIFLA’s plans. A 10th anniversary event at Zoo Atlanta scheduled for March has been put off until October.

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