A U.S. Small Business Administration office in Niagara Falls has bolstered its staff to handle a surge in disaster-loan applications, but its workload is likely to increase even more.
The federal agency has expanded nationwide a program designed to help small businesses hurt economically by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Until now, only businesses in designated areas around the disaster zones were eligible for economic-injury disaster loans.
Niagara Falls is home to one of only four SBA Disaster Assistance offices in the nation that handle the disaster loan applications. It's responsible for 13 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Even before the disaster-loan program was broadened, the local office was preparing for a spike in loan applications from the New York City area. The office had said it wanted to hire 25 more loan officers; it's actually hired 55, along with another 27 new employees working in other departments, said Frank Adinolfe, a spokesman for the office.
"We got such a great response we decided to continue to interview and hire where we were getting qualified applicants," Adinolfe said.
Adinolfe said the office will continue to expand its staff, though it doesn't have a fixed number of people it wants to hire.
The additional hires are considered temporary, but with the high number of loan applications expected to pour in, it's unclear when the office's workload will return to its typical level.
The SBA has approved more than 500 low-interest loans totaling about $53 million for the areas around the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Small businesses can apply for a loan of up to $1.5 million. The loans can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that could have been paid if the attacks hadn't happened. But the applicants must demonstrate that the decline in their business is related to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The SBA determines the amount of economic damage an applicant has suffered, the term of the loans and the payment amount. The interest rate on the loans is 4 percent, with a maximum term of 30 years.
Small businesses nationwide have until Jan. 21 to apply for the economic-injury loans. More information is available on the agency's Web site, at www.sba.gov.