The Independent Bankers Association of America and five affiliated state banking trade groups are recruiting members to bail out flood victims in the Midwest.
The bankers are helping farmers, business owners, and homeowners whose property has been damaged by the flood fill out complicated government forms to get federal disaster relief.
"We decided we should move ahead and do something to help out," said IBAA president James R. Lauffer, chairman and chief executive of First National Bank of Herminie, Irwin, Pa. "This is a case of neighbor helping neighbor."
The effort, dubbed "Operation Good Neighbor," began a week ago when the Washington-based trade group started working with its Wisconsin affiliate. From there the effort expanded to lllinois, lowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.
The IBAA is supplying its affiliates with phone numbers of disaster field offices set up by the government and the names of the people running the offices. It has also provided the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration with the names and phone numbers of its affiliates.
"What we are trying to do is get our people in the field as much information as possible," said Herb Spira, the IBAA's tax specialist.
In Wisconsin, about a dozen bankers have signed on to help, said Heidi Sabel, spokeswoman for the Independent Community Bankers Association of Wisconsin.
Ms. Sabel said the trade group sent out facsimile messages to members last week, notifying them that the SBA was looking for bankers to process loans.
"It's more of a service to them [government officials], so they don't have to go out knocking on doors," she said.
Ms. Sabel said more bankers are likely to join the effort, and more may have already been recruited by government officials. The affiliates are looking for bankers who can quickly help flood victims fill out federal loan applications to get funds to the hardest-hit areas.
There are several kinds of loans available to flood victims, including low-interest SBA loans to repair houses, rebuild and restart businesses, and repair public facilities.
Alternatives for Family Farmers
Family farmers can also apply for low-interest Farmers Home Loan Administration emergency farm loans, 20-year farm loans at 4.5% interest to cover crop losses, and for loan forgiveness up to $300,000.
Ronald Ence, the IBAA's director of agricultural finance, who spends about 25% of his time on the project, said filling out the forms is a daunting task. And answers from the government can take weeks or months when there are mistakes.
"If you are not used to dealing with federal red tape and federal requirements, it [filling out the forms] can really be a scary situation," he said. "The bankers are able to cut through mistakes and get the application completed."