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In the painful process of recovery from the World Trade Center disaster, one saving grace has been the outpouring of support from government agencies and philanthropies. Nonprofit organizations in financial trouble have several places to turn for loans and grants, including the New York City Partnership, Seedco, Fund for the City of New York and the September 11 Fund of the United Way and New York Community Trust, which has explicitly made support of nonprofit organizations serving affected communities a part of its commitment.

But one place nonprofits shouldn’t bother looking for help is the federal government. All firms, nonprofit and for-profit, are eligible for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration to help with repair costs not covered by insurance–“physical injury,” explained SBA Loan Officer Francisco Bonilla, staffing a table at the city’s Downtown Emergency Business Assistance Center on Maiden Lane. But only profit-making companies can receive assistance–up to $1.5 million–in cases where the harm is strictly economic. The $50 million WTC Disaster Recovery Bridge Loan Program, bank loans administered through the city Economic Development Corporation and the state Empire State Development Corporation, will assist nonprofits ineligible for federal assistance, but nonprofits still must apply for the SBA loans–funds they are guaranteed not to receive–in order to get help from the New York program.

SBA did not return calls seeking an explanation of the disparity.

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