In this Holiday Season

As 2020 (finally) draws to a close, we pause to reflect on what was a very challenging year for all of us but was truly exacerbating for Persistent Poverty Areas. We mourn the loss of thousands of lives to COVID-19, and at the same time, we celebrate the growing and more unified call for racial and economic justice.  During this holiday season, we want to share with you highlights from the hard work and accomplishments of PRT members as well as our collective commitment to a shared vision for the future.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the disparities that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and others living in poverty have long faced in the United States. The pandemic further exposed the cracks and gaps in our nation’s infrastructure for delivering opportunity and advancing prosperity in rural persistent poverty areas (PPAs), and compounded longstanding inequality and disinvestment that has held the residents of these areas back. Moreover, COVID-19 made it clear that disparities resulting from longstanding structural exclusion by race and place in America have life or death consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable, and underserved, residents.

Partners for Rural Transformation’s strength builds on our diverse experiences serving marginalized communities in predominantly rural areas. Our on-the-ground perspective as practitioners, knowledge of our communities, our future-focused leadership, and our strategic plan, in combination with our regional and national networks uniquely position our collaborative to provide timely solutions as new needs emerge from the COVID-19 disaster, continuing to move our regions out of poverty.

While the organizations that make up PRT have had many fruitful relationships with funders, PRT as a collaboration has been supported by both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation for our strategic approach and work to provide on the ground COVID-19 relief to our customers and partners.

As we reflect on this difficult year, we are cognizant of remarkable examples of how our partnership steps up to meet the challenges of the moment and supports our communities in need.

Fahe: Helped 50+ nonprofit organizations (Fahe Members) in Appalachia maintain capacity; invested $85M in the region during a critical time; facilitated their Network’s ability to access $16.6M in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and CARES Act funds with $30M of requests pending; launched three new mortgage products designed to fill gaps in delivery to vulnerable families; expanded our USDA 502 Direct packaging network, delivering $38M in 502 Direct financing; and raised $58M of investments towards an $100M Appalachian Persistent Opportunity Fund to meet the needs of nonprofits, municipalities, and other regional actors who are key to rebuilding from this crisis.

HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation, Hope Credit Union, Hope Policy Institute): Provided flexibility around repayment to more than 450 existing HOPE borrowers, enabling families to keep cash in hand during this challenging time; delivered more than $85M in PPP loans, of which nearly 40% were to PPAs and collectively supported over 11,000 jobs; provided low-rate, small dollar loans to help more than 100 families cover essential needs; and advocated for increased public investment in CDFIs, especially those owned and led by people of color, to increase access to capital in low wealth communities and communities of color.

Oweesta: Partnered with NDN Collective to launch Native COVID Response Fund, which will provide operational grants to Native CDFIs in the amount of $1,250,000 with 25 prospective Native CDFI’s receiving $50K each for operational funding; launched a Working Capital and Line of Credit loan product with deployment of $2,785,000 to 10 Native CDFIs to address COVID and emergency lending needs within tribal communities; and created/delivered a COVID-19 Webinar series to assist Native CDFIs with immediate capacity and technical assistance, reaching over 1,000 Native participants.

Communities Unlimited: worked with RCAC and HOPE to secure PPP (nearly $500,000 in loans/grants from CU to 28 small businesses, saving 146 jobs); delivered disaster response loans to 19 small businesses; provided technical assistance to 165 small businesses and 31 restaurants; and built a coalition of grassroots organizations in Arkansas Delta to identify and support 100 small businesses not able to take advantage of CARES funding.

cdcb: assisted over 100 families with tenant-based rental assistance; opened 50 units of new rental housing; provided online financial COVID-19 related budgeting and coaching tips reaching 536 people; pivoted income tax preparation from in-person to online and helped 54 additional families; originated $2.5M in small dollar loans to needy families; and launched their people.policy.power “p3” policy shop.

RCAC: Helped 52 families obtain homeownership through over $14M in USDA 502 Direct financing; connected 98 businesses with over $9M in PPP, of which 21% were made to Indigenous small business owners and entrepreneurs, and 48% were made in persistent poverty communities; raised $11M in investments to support its PPP lending in record time; and through PPP lending, preserved 1,515 jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition to the ongoing delivery of transformative resources, together we facilitated the flow of over $117M in CARES and other stimulus funding and investments into households and businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Time and togetherness is a precious commodity during good times; it is a critical source of inspiration, hope, and resiliency during times of great crisis like this pandemic. The ability to connect frequently and meaningfully with our PRT colleagues has been key to replacing what we’ve lost in connectedness from cancelled in-person meetings and the inability to nurture fellowship through shared moments and meals. “Going Further Together” will be key in the months ahead as we pursue the ambitious strategic objectives laid out in PRT’s strategic plan:

Create an influx of Capital into PPAs with the creation of a $1B Persistent Opportunity Fund, a critical step to closing the racial wealth gap in our country. As we build this Fund, we are looking for funders and investors to be significant actors in its successful establishment.

Advance our Thought Leadership around the structural and intentional nature of poverty in America. We will elevate our collective voice, keeping rural persistent poverty a priority in policy discussions regarding future relief, recovery, and resiliency resources. In the coming months, PRT will work to educate new policy makers, agency heads, and administration officials on the importance of rural persistent poverty areas to the nation’s overall economic recovery.

Conduct Power Building and Civic Engagement for people and places that have been disenfranchised for decades due to structural racism, exclusion, and wealth extraction. PRT leaders are increasingly called on to serve on panels representing their respective geographies, cultures, and racial demographics, and will continue to work collaboratively to advance our collective vision, and to seek the investments needed to create a more equitable world.

Pursue the deliberate alteration of Systems of structural racism and exclusion that have perpetuated poverty and inhibited economic mobility and financial resilience for individuals in the communities we serve.

In the midst of this important work, we pause for a brief moment to wish you Happy Holidays and hope for a New Year of hope, resilience and opportunity. More importantly, we pause to say THANK YOU for your joining us in the mission to eliminate Persistent Poverty in Rural America.


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