Loan fund launches for BIPOC Vermonters

The Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) has launched the Justice Forward Fund (JFF), a new financing and business assistance resource for Black, Indigenous & Vermonters of Color (BIPOC Vermonters).

A Special Purpose Credit Program, the JFF provides low- and no-cost loans of up to $40,000 and free-to-the-borrower business development services. The JFF serves Vermonters traditionally, systemically, and generationally excluded from financial markets and services, including BIPOC Vermonters and new Americans.

“The Vermont Community Loan Fund's mission is to ensure that financial services are accessible for all Vermonters,” said VCLF executive director Will Belongia in a news release. “We're here to serve the unserved and the underserved. And no one in Vermont has had more difficulty accessing financial services than Vermonters of Color.”

Benefiting Vermonters who have not yet had the opportunity to build wealth, the Justice Forward Fund features the lowest borrower interest rates in VCLF's portfolio of loan programs, no greater than 3 percent. Applicants with lower net worth will qualify for reduced interest rates, as low as 0 percent.

“The 'wealth gap' between White Americans and People of Color in America is widely documented. Throughout our nation's history, People of Color have seen their assets taken or withheld, and their communities abandoned and excluded from building wealth,” said Belongia. “The wealth gap is a statistic that documents that legacy of extraction and exclusion. In designing the JFF, we wanted to do everything we could to keep borrower costs low, or non-existent.”

The Justice Forward Fund eliminates many of the most common barriers to capital access. The JFF features unique characteristics that differentiate it from other VCLF loan program, namely a streamlined loan application process with no fees, no credit score requirement, and no collateral requirement.

“The Justice Forward Fund has really pushed VCLF to think about our systems and our underwriting,” said Dan Winslow, VCLF's Director of Business and Early Care & Learning Programs. “With the JFF, we're really centering capital access, and we're stripping away many of the barriers to that access. Credit scoring, collateral requirements, fees - any one of these can disqualify a potential borrower with a good idea and a sound plan. Most of the time, we think these entrepreneurs just need a lender to get past the quick 'no.'”

Non-financial support for JFF borrowers includes access to VCLF's Business Resource Center, which offers free-to-the-borrower assistance with planning and business development, financial management and personal coaching, succession planning, marketing, and more.

The result of two years of program planning, development, and outreach, the Justice Forward Fund was authorized by the VCLF Board of Directors as a $1 million pilot program in September 2021. The JFF made its first loan last November and has made seven loans to six businesses to date.

“The Justice Forward Fund is a work in progress, and still evolving. We're committed to that process, and to challenging ourselves to make this capital as accessible and transformative as possible.” said Belongia. “We're just getting on the path towards where we want to be.”

To learn more, visit or contact [email protected].

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