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Businesses, nonprofits, homeowners and renters impacted by the recent tornadoes and storms in western Kentucky can get aid from the federal government through the Small Business Administration.

The SBA has set up field operations in western Kentucky to walk people through the application process for a low-interest disaster loan. 

Mitzi Guhy, chairman of the Board of Trustees from First United Methodist Church in Mayfield, came to the SBA Business Recovery Center in Benton. 

A tornado destroyed the church, which was more than 100 years old. And Guhy said it’s been confusing figuring out what to do in the aftermath of the storms, especially since some of their records were destroyed in the tornado and from the rain during the subsequent days. 

“We’re just sort of learning on the fly,” she said. “And obviously, none of us had ever been through anything like this.” 

With spotty internet and phone service still, it was easier for Guhy to come to Benton and have a SBA worker help her submit an application.

She said they are looking for “any help that can come in.” 

“Because, obviously, with a church as old as ours, the building materials will be very difficult to replace,” Guhy said. “It was a limestone church structure, with six large columns in the front… to rebuild it to the way it was, will be extremely expensive. And although we had insurance, it’s not going to come close to covering the complete loss.”

Low-interest disaster loans through the SBA are available for both physical damage and economic loss due to the tornadoes.

  • Businesses and nonprofits located in the federally declared disaster areas can get up to $2 million dollars in loans.
  • Homeowners can get up to $200,000 for the “repair or replacement of real estate,” and up to $40,000 toward damaged personal property.
  • Renters are eligible for up to $40,000 in loans to help replace or fix personal property. 

According to a SBA disaster loan fact sheet for Kentucky, these disaster long-term loans may also be used to relocate; the amount of those loans “depends on whether you relocate voluntarily or involuntarily.”

“So despite the fact that we’re the Small Business Administration, we do have a different job and mission during major disasters, and that’s to partner with FEMA, and help disaster survivors with long-term disaster recovery,” SBA public information officer Sally Graham, who has been on-site in western Kentucky, said.

“I’ve met business owners who have seen what they’ve devoted themselves to be destroyed,” she continued. “I’ve seen homeowners and folks who rent think that there’s no hope and no way of moving forward.”

She urged people to not wonder if they quality or worry about collecting documents: “Disaster relief is available, and the fact that someone does not have their ID after a tornado, should not prevent them from applying.”

The Kentucky disaster loan fact sheet said applicants are required to have “a credit history acceptable to the SBA,” but Graham doesn’t want that to discourage people from applying.

“It’s a federal loan, so if someone has not paid their child support is one thing, someone who’s defaulted on a student loan, but I would just say, apply,” she said.

The SBA has also been busy administering a number of relief aid for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Graham said the SBA’s disaster program has been around for a long time, and she’s not concerned that the agency’s pandemic relief efforts will slow down processing disaster loan applications. 

Recovery can be difficult for businesses and nonprofits following a natural disaster like this.

Approximately 25% of businesses do not survive after a major disaster, according to the Institute of Business and Home Safety. 

Guhy with Mayfield’s First United Methodist Church hopes they can rebuild.

“We’re going to have to get all of the insurance and then go through the long processes,” Guhy said. “But we’ll be back. The city of Mayfield will be back. And the churches in downtown Mayfield will be back in some form.”

The deadline to apply for loans toward physical damage is Feb. 10, 2022, and for the deadline economic loss due to the tornadoes is Sept. 12, 2022.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the Small Business Administration incorrectly.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.