Jewish Groups Make Financial Resources Available Amid Crisis

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Emergency fund savings written on the jar with money.
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For the last few weeks, Ami Kassar has gotten up bright and early to send out emails to thousands of people.

Every day, either just before 6 a.m. or just after, Kassar, the CEO and founder of a company called MultiFunding LLC, has done a new version of what he always does: teaching business owners and entrepreneurs how to get the best loans at the best prices.

Now, of course, with revenues taking a vertiginous drop all over the country due to social distancing measures, his daily emails have become more pressing than ever for his clients. And for those who want a little bit more guidance, he’s hosting daily webinars that count attendance in the thousands.

“Each owner has to figure out what their own strategy is, and what’s their greatest chance of success to get some help so they can keep their people employed and keep their doors open,” Kassar said.

Kassar, based in Ambler, is just one local resource of many that people are turning to for financial assistance and advice.

Cheryl Barish Erlick, executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia
Cheryl Barish Erlick, executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia (Courtesy of Cheryl Barish Erlick)

There is always the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia, now marking its 36th year. The organization serves Jewish borrowers in the Greater Philadelphia area, even extending into some New Jersey counties.

Typically, according to Executive Director Cheryl Barish Erlick, loan applicants are looking for the ability to, say, pay adoption costs or navigate fertility challenges, pay medical and dental bills, or even just make a car payment. Applicants borrow between $2,500 and $7,500, free of fees and free of interest.

HFLS will give out 30 to 34 loans of this nature in a standard year, Erlick said, with most opting for the full $7,500.

In the past few weeks, the society’s board has created a new program, all via Zoom videoconferencing. The Coronavirus Emergency Response Loan is an emergency loan, available up to $2,000. Like the typical society loan, there is no fee and no interest. There is a 90-day grace period for repayment, and a 12-month repayment period. As soon as this was made available, Erlick said, inquiries began. Now, the organization is able to help vulnerable community members — those “who are now going to be out of work, who’ve been laid off, who’ve been furloughed,” Erlick said. “We need to be there for those people as well.”

At Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Philadelphia, financial assistance is being offered through the care management program. Courtney Owen, director of individual and family services, explained:

“We assist those in need with first determining eligibility and access to public benefits including LIHEAP, SNAP, Medical Assistance, Unemployment Compensation, and others. Once we apply for and access the benefits individuals are eligible for, we work on budgeting and can offer additional support through our financial empowerment program. The care managers work in partnership with their clients to identify their goals and provide resources to help solidify their needs.”

Though the financial resources that are offered have not yet undergone a substantial change, the method by which information about them is being conveyed certainly has. JFCS has started to offer regular videoconferences with a certified financial social worker and a benefits outreach specialist to give information about everything from budgeting to scams targeting older adults.

JFCS has received a $25,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to provide housing, utility and food support. As the period of social distancing continues, Owen said, JFCS will continue to apply for grants from additional sources.

JFCS will sometimes direct women in need toward the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, a small volunteer group that’s existed in Philadelphia for more than 200 years. Founded by Rebecca Gratz, FHBS still provides emergency aid, personal emergency response systems for frail, elderly women, a pharmacy stipend program and even summer camp scholarships for children.

FHBS President Eileen Sklaroff said the organization, which gets its clients as they are referred from other organizations, has not yet seen an increase in requests for financial assistance. However, what’s coming isn’t too hard to see.

“I believe we are about a week away,” she said.

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