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Sun., April 17, 2022
By Igor Yorke
I’m a proud small business owner of a coffee shop in Spokane with my wife, Iryna. We arrived in Spokane in 2015 after fleeing a brutal war in our home country of Ukraine. Our shop, Cedar Coffee, is a dream come true. Once refugees and now citizens, we have a thriving small business that has allowed us to find success in Spokane and be able to raise donations for our home country in these trying days.
But we were not always in such a position, particularly when we were first starting out. Thankfully, one of the resources we were able to access was SNAP, a local community development financial institution, which provided us capital and training. That is why I’m excited that Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Equitable Access to Credit Act passed by the Legislature this year. This legislation created a new fund for providing resources to people like me who are pursuing their dream and creating jobs, but confront barriers when trying to access traditional financing.
Although I am proud today of Cedar Coffee’s current business success and community impact, we had difficulty obtaining a loan from our local bank when we were first getting started. Unable to help us, the bank referred my wife and me to a local community development financial institution. When we arrived in Spokane, we knew very little English and had no documented relevant experience in the States. Still, we knew we offered passion, experience, and belief in our business model.
A community development financial institution is a nonprofit financial institution certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Unlike a traditional financial institution, SNAP and other groups like it provide technical assistance to help clients manage key elements of their operations and share other fundamentals of finance. As a mission-driven financial institution working to invest in underserved communities, it often offers more affordable business loans than their traditional counterparts. Community development financial institutions are usually not depositories and often rely on funding from sources like government and philanthropy, which means that they work hard to help invest in underserved communities where the need for financing often exceeds the limited resources available. Traditional financial institutions, like banks and credit unions, are required to manage their risks differently, resulting in lending guidelines and underwriting processes that work for a lot of people, but can leave people like my wife and me behind.
The adoption of the Equitable Access to Credit Act means that more people in Washington seeking access to capital who have historically been left behind will now find greater opportunity. This measure created a new government fund which will allocate up to $40 million over the next five years for Washington community development financial institutions to provide access to affordable loans and technical financial services in the communities where they operate across our state. This new program means that there will be greater access to affordable loans and the same kind of financial training that I benefited from when we applied for our loan.
I am proud that we were just one of the young and growing businesses that benefited from hundreds of millions in investments by community development financial institutions in our state since our business opened in 2018. No one is asking for a handout, but everyone deserves a fair shot. The new funding program will mean that more people like me will get a chance to pursue their dream, create jobs and provide services in the community.
One of our loan officers, who came from the traditional banking sector before coming to work for SNAP, said that in her old career she had to say “no” a lot, even when she wanted to say “yes” to a great idea that just didn’t fit the financial institution’s lending criteria. My wife and I are proud that she helped us earn a “yes.” We are excited that with this new state fund, so many more people who are used to hearing “no” all the time are now much more likely to celebrate a “yes” so they may pursue their dream.
Igor Yorke has lived in Spokane for seven years. A refugee from Ukraine and a United States citizen, he is the proud co-owner with his wife, Iryna, of Cedar Coffee in Spokane.
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