Federal workers in Philly offered free, no-interest loans during shutdown

Marshal Granor of the Hebrew Free Loan Association writes a check for $1,250 to Latashah Sharp, a federal employee who has fallen behind on her rent since the government shutdown began. An employee of the Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia airport, Sharp has continued working without pay. An anonymous $500,000 donation made the interest free loans to federal employees possible. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Marshal Granor of the Hebrew Free Loan Association writes a check for $1,250 to Latashah Sharp, a federal employee who has fallen behind on her rent since the government shutdown began. An employee of the Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia airport, Sharp has continued working without pay. An anonymous $500,000 donation made the interest free loans to federal employees possible. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

An anonymous donor in Philadelphia is handing out $500,000 in interest-free loans to furloughed government employees during the shutdown.

The money is being distributed through the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia, a Jewish organization that normally gives out small loans to businesses and individuals in need. It usually has about $500,000 in circulation.

Last Friday one of its board members, Marshal Granor, received a call from an anonymous donor who wanted to distribute an additional half-million, specifically for government workers not being paid due to the shutdown.

“Absolutely incredible,” said Granor. “I almost fell out of my chair.”

Instead of falling, he leapt out of his chair. Granor – a real estate attorney in Horsham, Pa. – scrambled to put together a loan distribution system in less than a week.

“We try to keep money out on the street,” he said. “We hate having money in the bank.”

The $500,000 will be distributed in 400 loans of $1250 each, without fees or interest. Recipients sign a note to repay the loan within 90 days of the end of the shutdown. They’re supposed to receive their back pay by then.

The anonymous donor will then have the right to reclaim the repaid money, but Granor said he is working with the society on “another idea” to re-distribute the funds.

Granor and his wife Tamar – both past co-presidents of the group – created a simple online application system, wherein applicants can enter their basic information and set up an appointment to pick up a check.

The society set up shop in the basement of the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall with a computer, a printer, and checkbook.

The whole process takes about five minutes.

“We sit here, we take a few pieces of identification, they’ve already done the application online,” said Granor. “We have our checkbook, and we write checks.”

One of the first recipients was Latashah Sharp who heard about the loans on Facebook at 9:00 a.m. Friday. By 9:30 she had filled out the online application. By 1:30 p.m. she had made her way to the National Constitution Center and had a check in her hand before 2 p.m.

At 4:00 p.m. Sharp had to report to the airport, where she works full-time as TSA officer, unpaid for now. She will use her loan of $1250 to cover overdue rent.

“January still hasn’t been paid,” she said. “Luckily the landlord has been understanding. But understanding can only go so far when you’re not paying rent.”

Granor was almost moved to tears to be in a position to help people unwittingly caught in a political showdown.

“They’re normal, ordinary working folks that are having trouble paying for gasoline to get the job that the federal government says they have to go to. What a bizarre situation we’re in,” he said. “This is not a political statement. This is people helping people. We’re in this building that says ‘We The People’ on the front: we the people are helping we the people.”

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