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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact not just on health, but on the local economy as well, particularly small businesses. Many of them were worried about having to close their doors immediately as shelter in place restrictions took effect. Linda Jason of Your Travelmaker was one such small business. She felt like she was at the edge of a cliff, about to fall over when the coronavirus began to affect her business. Then, someone pulled her back to safety.

Fresno EOC and Access Plus Capital recognized this was happening to hundreds, if not thousands of small businesses across the community. They partnered with the City of Fresno to implement the Save Our Small (SOS) Business Program, central California’s first local COVID19 small business relief fund. As a Community Development Financial Institution, Access Plus Capital helps make the entire community more responsive to the needs of low income and vulnerable populations, specifically as it relates to money and access to capital, according to Access Plus Capital Director of Administration Tate Hill. He said that aligns with the vision and mission of Fresno EOC as a Community Action Agency.

As a recipient of the Save Our Small Business loan, Linda was able to keep up with her basic expenses like her lease, utilities, WIFI, and phone bills. “I was able to keep my clients confident I was not quitting or giving up,” Linda said. In 30 days, Access Plus Capital deployed $750,000 to 118 local businesses selected to participate in the zero-interest, no payment loan-to-grant program.

Linda has been in the travel industry in a storefront/retail setting for 30 years. She specializes in 24-hour ticket and delivery, and 24-hour on-call travel assistance for all booked clients. She found out about the Save Our Small Business Loan through the local news and was helped through the process by Access Plus Capital Director of Credit Administration Mari Kroigaard. “She was instrumental in my gathering of all the documents. She was the reason I was successful in applying correctly, and ultimately receiving the grant!”

Linda was thrilled to work with someone like Mari, who took her many questions and was always patient and understanding. Without the loan, Linda’s business would not have been able to survive the pandemic, Mari and Access Plus Capital’s help allowed Linda to show her clients that she’ll still be here once travel is possible again. Linda’s business was uniquely affected by the pandemic. The travel industry was turned upside-down. “Airline flights were deemed unsafe,” Linda explained, “The media told the public, cruises were ‘petri dishes.’ Whether a destination had coronavirus or not, it was deemed unsafe for travel. Many people are still afraid they will die if they get on a plane or take a cruise ship.”

Now, Linda plans to stay in business and book successful travel for the public. She’ll spend time proving to her clients which destinations are safe, and which destinations are coronavirus hot spots. Linda looks forward to advising her clients what health precautions airlines, cruises, hotels, and rental car companies are implementing to keeps people safe so they can make informed travel decisions. As a travel agent, she’ll be in a unique position to provide accurate and factual information to her clients about how to protect themselves and be aware.

The program from the City came with no administrative funds, and without the extensive technical assistance Linda received, she would not have been able to succeed. But Access Plus Capital had been able to leverage $368,000 by successfully applying for a grant from Wells Fargo Bank for COVID-19 responses in the community. Because of the generous grant, Access Plus Capital was able to provide technical assistance to the 118 small businesses that received loans.

It was such a successful program that the County of Fresno reached out to Access Plus Capital to administer a $5 million Helping Underserved Businesses (HUB) grant program designed to serve 1,000 businesses in April 2020. In July 2020, the City of Bakersfield reached out to Access Plus Capital and asked it to put in a competitive application to operate a $2.1 million loan program designed to help save small businesses as a response to COVID-19 and a $70,000 fund for start-up or micro expansion grants of up to $5,000 for small businesses related to COVID-19.

This fits nicely in the mission of Access Plus Capital, which began as a program of Fresno EOC. Since becoming a stand-alone non-profit in 2008, Access Plus Capital has helped create or retain 3,506 jobs in the Central Valley. If you need proof of its impact, just ask Linda Jason.