Newsletter September 2023

This is the first newsletter for the MICAH Program, Inc. This update reviews the early history of MICAH and begins a brief look into the future. In the summer of 2020, Parishioners of St. Anthony Catholic Church parish formed the Micro-Loan Assistance and Financial Health Program (MICAH) to help underserved neighbors experiencing financial distress. MICAH would facilitate small, low interest to address a financial crisis, with the expectation that the loan be repaid over 12 to 18 months.

The loan amount could be up to $1500 for a nonrecurring expense. Individual donations totaling around $30,000 were placed in a loan reserve fund at Self-Help Credit Union (SHCU). Mentors with mature common sense and a willing heart were trained with the help of Community Works, and a five-person loan review panel was formed. Information about MICAH was distributed to the St. Anthony food pantry and others involved in helping vulnerable, low-wealth people. As loan candidates were identified, the referral coordinator assigned a mentor who met with neighbors listened to their problems, reviewed their situation, and considered whether a loan might be helpful. When the mentor felt that a loan should be considered, the loan review panel was convened, and the mentor presented the case for the loan. Because of COVID, these meetings ended up being Zoom calls. If a loan was approved by the review panel, the neighbor and mentor made an appointment at SHCU to set up the loan. These unsecured loans are issued by SHCU with a low-interest rate of 4% above the current savings rate (then less than 1%). 

If the loan is not fully repaid, the remaining debt is covered by MICAH’s loan reserve fund. MICAH proceeded cautiously and learned a lot in its first year. First, it was clear that many of our neighbors experience episodes of financial distress and are receptive to the help offered by MICAH. Second, the need for financial mentoring is as great as the need for loans. In over half of MICAH’s interaction with neighbors, the problem was solved without making a loan. Third, transportation is critical for our neighbors, and automobile repairs were a frequent source of financial crisis. Finally, the relationship between the neighbor and mentor was critical to the success of managing the financial problem and repaying the loan. In its one-year update in October 2021, MICAH reported that it had trained seven mentors, met with sixteen neighbors in financial difficulty, and approved eight loans. 

MICAH has continued to receive referrals, meet with neighbors, make loans, train mentors, coordinate with nearby agencies, including Catholic Charities and United Ministries, and form relationships with automobile repair facilities. From 2020 to October 2023, MICAH has now supported around 50 neighbors with financial counseling and has facilitated 18 loans. Of the initial loan fund of $33,500, $30,000 remains to be collateral for loans to neighbors. In the fall of 2023, MICAH is planning for the future. Already a South Carolina registered charity, MICAH is applying for 501c3 status and anticipates growing and collaborating with other agencies to serve the needs of vulnerable, low-wealth neighbors in distress. In a pilot program with Miracle Hill Ministries (MHM), MICAH, has made its first low-cost loan to purchase an automobile for basic transportation. It is called Bridge to Wheels. The board, volunteers, and mentors in MICAH thank God for the success of the past three years and hope to continue and grow this ministry in the coming years.

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