NCN Hosts Webinar to Discuss CDFI Fund’s Small Dollar Loan Program

On Friday, May 13, 2022, NCN hosted Small Dollar Loan (SDL) Program Manager, Tanya McInnis, and SDL Senior Manager and Program Analyst, Julie Sandler, along with Sequoyah Fund Executive Director Russ Seagle (SDL Program participant). The Program, which provides grants for Loan Loss Reserves and Technical Assistance to enable Certified CDFIs to establish and maintain small dollar loan programs, will accept applications for funding later this spring. The CDFI Fund anticipates that up to $11.1 million will be available for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 application round of the SDL Program.

View the session video in its entirety below.

Interview #6 Tawney Brunsch | Lakota Funds

Interview #6 Tawney Brunsch | Lakota Funds

Interview #6

TAWNEY BRUNSCH | Lakota Funds

 

The Native CDFI Network (NCN) developed the “Native CDFIs: Difference Makers for Indian Country” interview series to cast a much-needed spotlight on the many positive benefits that Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) create for tribal communities and the leaders who help make Native CDFIs the transformational success stories they are.

In this latest edition of “Difference Makers,” NCN sits down with Tawney Brunsch, who serves as the Executive Director of Lakota Funds, a federally certified Native CDFI serving the Pine Ridge Reservation and other Native communities in South Dakota. Prior to joining Lakota Funds in 2008, Tawney worked with the Black Hills Federal Credit Union for eight years. At Lakota Funds, Tawney has successfully led Lakota Funds’ achievement of key organizational benchmarks, including chartering Lakota Federal Credit Union, expanding Lakota Funds’ lending area to the Rosebud Reservation, becoming a Farm Service Agency Guaranteed lender, and launching the Child Development Account (CDA) program, one of the first such programs in Indian Country.

A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Tawney is nationally known for her community development efforts and serves on several boards and advisory committees, including the Native CDFI Network’s Policy Committee, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines Advisory Council, and the Community Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Board.

In this wide-ranging conversation with NCN, Tawney shares Lakota Funds’ nearly four-decade track record of helping to grow the Pine Ridge economy through homeownership, small business lending, financial literacy, and other wealth-building initiatives.

NCN: Why do you what you do? How did leading Lakota Funds become your life’s calling?

Brunsch: The answer to your question is simple – the universe guided me here. I was very happy at Black Hills Federal Credit Union, one of the biggest credit unions in the nation. I loved their philosophy – members helping members. We were doing the types of loans that nobody else wanted to do. It was very mission-driven work, which I loved. And lo and behold, out of the blue, Dowell Caselli-Smith, who was the director of Lakota Funds at that time, called me and said, “How would you feel about moving back home and putting that economics degree to work?” And I am thinking, “What? Why?” Ultimately, I did it because it was an opportunity to move back home. While I didn’t even understand what a CDFI was at the time, it was perfect to practice some of the things you learn in theory about economics and also to have an opportunity to make some institutional changes that are not only impacting our community right now but will continue to have those impacts on future generations. It was meant to be.

NCN: As you know, there are more than 70 federally certified Native CDFIs across the country and many more “emerging” CDFIs following in their footsteps. Why did Native communities feel it necessary to create CDFIs, and what fundamental role do they play?

Brunsch: Native CDFIs are critical in growing economies in the Native communities we serve. Coming from heavily regulated institutions like Black Hills Federal Credit Union, where you have to do everything within certain guidelines, I understand how restrictive that can be. CDFIs were created by Treasury for the purpose of creating programs, loan products, and those models that fit that community. That’s critical because our borrowers are not comfortable with traditional lending and have a kind of deserved mistrust of federal government and federal agencies. They’re going to be resistant to it. The fact we are a Native organization – and especially with Lakota Funds being tribally chartered – there’s a built-in level of comfort. Because we are also led by tribal members who are from this community, Lakota Funds has really been able to optimize that model of Native CDFIs to the max. We’re using what we know of the community to create the loan products that fit them, to create that technical assistance, the classes, the delivery, and the outreach that fits this community best. We’re doing that because we can as a Native CDFI and we’re doing it better because we’re local, because we are tribal members ourselves. Six of Lakota Funds’ seven board members are not only tribal members but tribal members from Pine Ridge.

NCN: Following up on that, Lakota Funds also filled a significant void at Pine Ridge, which has had few local lending institutions to speak of, did it not?

Brunsch: The credit union was the first bank to be located on the reservation. So for Lakota Funds, it’s proximity. It’s relationships. It’s the fact we are a tribal charter. But it’s also that we’re meeting our clients where they are. We know there’s going to be a certain amount of education needed even in our vocabulary – that we’re using words that are easily understood when you’re talking about equity and you’re working with a population that is 60 percent unbanked. You have to be careful how you’re defining your products and talking about them in the communities. It’s making sure we’re communicating effectively and knowing that trust land prevents our borrowers from meeting any loan to value, where you don’t have that as an asset to be able to secure the loan. We know it’s something that’s going to be harder to do here, so none of our products require the types of ratios that bank loans do. So it’s knowing it, living it, and then applying it to your loan products.

NCN: Isn’t part of it, too, the folks there at Pine Ridge having much greater confidence in Lakota Funds having their best interests at heart, as opposed to those traditional lenders that have their own best interests at heart?

Brunsch: Absolutely. The fact we’re a nonprofit, we are mission driven, and it’s not just about a bottom line. It’s not just about generating profit for the institution. We’re 36 years old. Even though generating a profit will never be our top priority, we are realizing if we want to be around to serve the next generations that we do have to be more mindful of self-sufficiency and not always be grant reliant. We are more aware of that and careful that our interest rates, our earned income is eventually going to be sufficient enough to cover our operating costs and allow us to continue serving this market. Our self-sufficiency ratio was 30-some percent 10-12 years ago, and now we’re up to nearly 50 percent. I feel strongly about making sure Lakota Funds is around to continue this work, and that is done by achieving a certain level of self-sufficiency.

NCN: What do policymakers and the general public need to understand about Native CDFIs and the difference they make?

Brunsch: It’s the fact we’re doing the loans that nobody else wants to do, and the fact we’re serving an area where there are no other institutions to even reach out to to consider those loans. What I’ve been bragging about lately is not only is Lakota Funds increasing its loan volume – which I think demonstrates the success of Native CDFIs in general – but our deployment has doubled in the last three years. Last year, we did $5 million in loans very efficiently. I had one-and-a-half lenders. There’s only five staff. We’re serving two reservations that cover more than 5,000 square miles. We assisted 100 clients last year with business loans. We have less than a one percent delinquency rate, 0.6 percent. These are loans that are being repaid.

The other thing is Lakota Funds now is also the fiscal agent for the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, which is a statewide coalition that is working to increase the number of Native families who are achieving homeownership. In 2020, 70 percent of the home loans that were done in Indian Country were done by Native CDFIs. Home ownership is increasing because of Native CDFIs. Business lending is increasing because of Native CDFIs. Consumer lending is increasing because of Native CDFIs. All of Indian Country would benefit if everyone had a Native CDFI in their community, but, unfortunately, they do not. But we have an increasing number of them, which shows that the word is out.

NCN: Tell me about Lakota Funds. What is its mission, and how does it work to foster prosperity in the communities it serves?

Brunsch: Lakota Fund’s mission is to promote economic sustainability on the Pine Ridge Reservation and geographic service area through business loans, technical assistance, and wealth-building education for families and businesses. We are one of the few institutions that are offering our tribal members direct access to credit for business loans. Outside of the tribe, we are the only ones who are contributing to the businesses that drive the economy. The bigger part of it is technical assistance and wealth building. Wealth building includes a lot more than just business lending. It includes home ownership. As a HUD-certified housing counseling agency, Lakota Funds is partnering with Lakota Federal Credit Union, which does the mortgages. Lakota Funds does the heavy lifting in some ways, and that is getting our families ready for homeownership. That’s through the technical assistance, the teaching of classes, the financial literacy, the homebuyer readiness – all of the things that go into making sure they understand what owning their own home can mean. Once they’ve got their homes bought, are they more likely to participate in our child development account, the matched savings accounts that are used to pay for a secondary education for kids? Are they more likely to feel comfortable pursuing that dream of owning their own business? Absolutely. It’s all tied together, and Lakota Funds as a Native CDFI can offer all of these things under one roof.

NCN: Can you talk about how the private-sector economy – businesses owned and operated by tribal citizens – has grown at Pine Ridge, and Lakota Funds’ role in cultivating that growth?

“In the last two years, our [small business] borrowers have seen an increase in their incomes of just over 30 percent…They’re also some of our biggest employers.”

Brunsch: When you’re driving through Kyle or Pine Ridge, there’s a noticeable difference in the businesses that are visible. But unfortunately, most of our communities lack the infrastructure. We don’t have the streets, curbs, gutters, access to water and sewer, and the store fronts. So we don’t necessarily see many more of those businesses. But for the most part, Lakota Funds’ loans are to the businesses that don’t need those storefronts. Just over half of our portfolio now is to our ranchers, our livestock producers. So you’ve got a business that is supporting two or three families and is very likely to be passed on to future generations. Is it a store front? No. Is it generating income that’s going to support the growth of the economy? Absolutely. In the last two years, our borrowers have seen an increase in their incomes of just over 30 percent. The other big portion of our portfolio is our construction contractors and related businesses. These are individuals who are building homes or structures. They’re doing very well. They’re also some of our biggest employers.

Another thing I wanted to brag about is we’re increasing credit scores. Low credit scores is a big initial barrier to accessing credit in traditional forms. Being a Native CDFI, just because you have a 599 credit score doesn’t mean you’re going to be disqualified from getting a business loan. It means we’re going to work with you. With the good repayment rates we’re seeing, now those individual scores are increasing. They’re going to be more bankable and ready for that next level of financing.

Tawney Brunsch with Artspace President Kelley Lindquist and First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier at the groundbreaking of Oglala Lakota Artspace, which provides studio and commercial space to local Native artists (September 2018) (Courtesy: Artspace)

NCN: Lakota Funds has helped an extraordinary number of people. Is there an individual’s client success story that really sticks out to you, that really inspires you?

Brunsch: I would say my experience with Carol Two Crow, who was an elder living in Lakota Funds’ LIHTC [Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program] housing. She was lucky enough to live with three of her adult children and her grandkids in the same house. So when Eagle Nest Housing became free from the LIHTC restrictions and we were able to offer those homes as homeownership opportunities, the whole community was a little resistant at first to taking that next step. Instead of being excited about being able to own their own home, their first question was, “Who will come over and fix the furnace?” So it was fear, and I came to understand how we were going to have to frame this differently because an asset on a balance sheet doesn’t mean much to them. In a conversation I had with Carol, she said, “I feel like I should do this, but I’m not quite sure.” She was unsure of taking the leap to borrow $60,000 to buy her home and make the renovations. I said, “Carol, it would mean being able to take care of your family for generations.” Even after she was gone, she would be at peace knowing her grandkids would have a place to live. With that, she understood and went wholeheartedly forward.

NCN: From your perspective, what do Native CDFIs like yours need to realize their full potential? What support do they need to achieve their missions and maximize their impact?

Brunsch: We need bigger NACA [Native American CDFI Assistance] awards from the Department of Treasury. I’m sorry to sound that way, but honestly, our loan volume is growing. Our Native CDFIs are growing. It’s time that we have a grant that meets those needs. I also want to see a Native set-aside on the bond program because there are a group of us more mature Native CDFIs and even some that are emerging that want to partner to apply for a bond. We’re there. We’re ready. The lack of loan capital always holds us back. I shouldn’t have to stop everything I’m doing and start shaking trees for more money because I don’t have access to investment or the types of loan capital I need for lending. It shouldn’t be that way. We need steady, consistent, low-cost access to capital. We need more investment.

To learn more about Lakota Funds, please click here.

NCN This Week: May 9, 2022

Upcoming NCN Webinars:

The CDFI Fund’s Small Dollar Loan Program
Friday, May 13, 2:00 p.m. EDT

Join SDL Program Manager Tanya McInnis and Sequoyah Fund Executive Director Russ Seagle as they share about the SDL Program. The Program, which was created to encourage federally certified CDFIs to establish and maintain small-dollar loan programs and provide alternatives to high-cost small dollar loans, will accept applications for funding later this spring. The CDFI Fund anticipates that up to $11.1 million will be available for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 application round of the SDL Program.

Initiate: A Blended Learning Approach to Technical Assistance by Northern Initiatives
Thursday, May 19, 2:00 p.m. EDT

Chris Wendel and Jessa Armstrong from Northern Initiatives will present Initiate, an online collection of best practice business resources. With its vetted videos, resources, tools, and templates, Initiate helps both beginning and experienced business owners improve and realize business success. Through a “Blended Learning” of Initiate’s online learning and coaching, business owners have been able to use Initiate to successfully grow their businesses. The webinar will feature a tour of the Initiate website and show examples of challenges that entrepreneurs face and how Initiate’s Blended Learning provides relatable solutions.

SAVE THE DATE!
NCN Annual Policy and Capacity Building Summit: DECEMBER 6-8, 2022

Native CDFI leaders, staff, and other interested stakeholders are encouraged to save December 6-8, 2022 on their calendars to attend the Native CDFI Network’s 2022 Annual Policy and Capacity Building Summit in Washington, D.C. The Summit will be held at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Conference Center near Capitol Hill, with lodging options within close walking distance of the event. The first day (December 6) will feature a capacity-building training for attendees. Stay tuned for more details!

NCN Institute Offering Summer Training Series for Senior Native CDFI Staff

Join the Native CDFI Network (NCN) and Jack Northrup of New England Market Research, Inc., for the NCN Institute, a summer training series for senior-level Native CDFI staff.

These hands-on, skill-building sessions will provide tools and resources you can use to take your CDFI management strategy to the next level. Training will be on Zoom and is free of charge. Enrollment is limited to the first 15 registrants to ensure an interactive learning environment.

Participating organizations that complete all three sessions and submit pre- and post- training questionnaires for each session will be eligible to receive a grant of up to $4,000 to update the organization’s technology system (e.g., updated software, computer, video conferencing subscriptions, etc.). (Limit one grant per organization.)

Dates and training topics include:

  • June 15: Small Business Loan Underwriting
  • July 13: Advanced Cash Flow Projections
  • August 17: Loan Product Price Pointing/Market Choice

All two-hour sessions will be at 2 p.m. EDT. To be eligible for the technology grant, each organization may have one staff member attend all three sessions or three different staff members attend each session separately.

TFederal Government Releases NPR on Community Reinvestment Act; NCN Leadership Quoted in Story on CRA

Last Thursday, the three agencies tasked with regulating lending institutions’ compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 jointly released their much-anticipatedInteragency CRA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking(NPR) designed to strengthen and modernize the regulations governing the Act. Importantly, the NPR features a section specifically focused on Indian Country titled “Activities in Native Land Areas” (see pages 96-103).

COMMENT PERIOD NOW OPEN: Native CDFIs, tribal governments, and other interested stakeholders have 90 days to submit formal comments on the NPR (submission deadline: August 5, 2022). To review the NPR, the interagency press release, the NPR Fact Sheet, and other materials, please click here

Interagency Webinar to Explain the NPR Scheduled for This Wednesday

The Federal Reserve System, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will host an interagency webinar this Wednesday, May 11 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time to provide an overview of the CRA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The webinar is open to the public. To register for the webinar, please click here.

NOTE: The NCN Policy Chair Robin Danner Featured in Tribal Business News article on Community Reinvestment Act NPR

Today, Tribal Business News published an article on the new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Community Reinvestment Act that features excerpts from an interview with Robin Danner, NCN’s Policy Chair. To read the article, please click here.

NCN “Difference Makers” Interview Series:
Jeff Johnson and Tawney Brunsch

Last week, the Native CDFI Network released its latest edition of “Native CDFIs: Difference Makers for Indian Country,” an interview with Jeff Johnson, Interim CEO of the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund. To read the interview, please click here

Coming this Thursday: “Difference Makers” sits down with Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds, a federally certified Native CDFI serving the Pine Ridge Reservation and other Native communities in South Dakota.

To read the other interviews in NCN’s “Difference Makers” series, please click here.

Tribal Business News Wraps Up Three-Week Series Highlighting the Role of Native CDFIs in Growing Small Businesses

This week, Tribal Business News wraps up a three-week multimedia reporting project examining the crucial role Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) play in supporting small business formation and growth in tribal communities. This special report featured conversations with Native CDFI executives, profiles of Native businesses, and an online interview with an expert on Native American economies. To read the latest stories in the series, please click on the links below:

Interview #5 Jeff Johnson | Wisconsin Native Loan Fund

Interview #5 Jeff Johnson | Wisconsin Native Loan Fund

Interview #5

JEFF JOHNSON | Wisconsin Native Loan Fund

 

The Native CDFI Network (NCN) developed the “Native CDFIs: Difference Makers for Indian Country” interview series to cast a much-needed spotlight on the many positive benefits that Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) create for tribal communities and the leaders who help make Native CDFIs the transformational success stories they are.

In this latest edition of “Difference Makers,” NCN sits down with Jeff Johnson, who serves as Interim CEO and Board Chairman of the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund (WINLF), a Native CDFI located in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin that serves Native people statewide. WINLF is a revolving loan fund that supports the renovations of distressed homes for people in need, provides down-payment assistance and debt consolidation loans for its clients, and offers small business loans to area Native entrepreneurs.

An enrolled member of the Forest County Potawatomi tribe, Johnson also is the President/Principal Engineer of J.W. Johnson & Associates, which provides professional civil engineering and construction management services.

In this wide-ranging interview with NCN, Jeff shares how he brought his extensive experience as a small business owner into his leadership role, and how WINLF is growing to address the homeownership, small business, and related needs and goals of the tribal communities it serves.

NCN: So let’s start with you: Why do you what you do? How did you end up leading the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund?

Johnson: First off, thank you for the opportunity to share. My interest in leading the organization was a little bit by accident, to be honest with you. I was asked to join WINLF’s Board of Directors in 2013. I’m a civil engineer and construction project manager by trade with 26 years of experience. I own my own small business, soI was familiar with the capital needs and the management of a small business. I have stayed on the board because I like the work that we do and I have a soft spot for economic development and for tribal communities. I feel good about being able to serve those communities and utilize my skill set at the same time. So when Fern Orie, the founding CEO of WINLF, announced she was going to leave, as one of the most tenured Board members, I offered to step into the CEO role, at least on a temporary basis. And then that just snowballed into me taking on the role as Interim CEO. I still have the passion for helping tribal communities and I love that kind of economic development problem set. It’s different from engineering. It’s different from construction project management. I made a decision to switch careers, and that felt good. It felt like I was reinventing myself. Several months later, it feels like I am on the right path.

NCN: As you know, there are more than 70 federally certified Native CDFIs across the country and many more “emerging” CDFIs following in their footsteps. Why did Native communities feel it necessary to create CDFIs, and what fundamental role do they play?

Johnson: I think it’s pretty simple – it’s access to capital for individuals to provide them with financing and help them build their credit. And it’s doing so without predatory lending practices. That’s from the individual’s standpoint. Overall, CDFIs play a role in the economic development landscape for tribal communities and to me, it’s more organic economic development because it helps small business owners, it helps homeowners, it helps build all of these organically grown ways of developing and increasing the understanding of finances in all of the communities that we serve.

NCN: You mentioned the role Native CDFIs play in helping to organically develop tribal economies. Shouldn’t Native CDFIs be viewed as co-equal partners with tribal governments and other entities within a tribal community for making economic development happen and grow over time?

Johnson: I couldn’t agree more. Economic development starts with relationships and tribal relationships with partners is crucial to disseminate information and gain access to funding. To help us do that, Wisconsin Native Loan Fund has a very unique model in that our board has one member from every tribe that we serve. That’s the internal accountability – that we hold ourselves to that standard. If we want to serve each market well, then we need to have a voice in each community.

In addition to that, Wisconsin Native Loan Fund is part of the Wisconsin Indigenous Economic Development Corporation (WIEDC), which is made up of the four Native CDFIs in the state of Wisconsin: WINLF, NiiJii Capital Partners, First Nations Community Financial, and First American Capital Corporation. By banding together, the intent is scalability and to go after larger projects that will build larger businesses, serve larger loans, and then spread that liability across all four of our organizations instead of just one. We’re trying to grow WIEDC and be smart about it while mitigating our risk as much as possible.

NCN: What do policymakers and the general public need to understand about Native CDFIs and the difference they make?

Johnson: When I have a three-minute elevator pitch to give to outsiders, I emphasize the fact that CDFIs are eligible to be stakeholders in the value chain that is real estate development, that is economic development in tribal communities. We’re building organically from the ground up business owners and we’re trying to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit. By encouraging more entrepreneurship, you will be able to have more lending partners later on, as well as more lending clients. The same idea with homeownership. Homeowners will need to have a vehicle so we could offer them a consumer loan for a vehicle or a home improvement loan. CDFIs have a stakeholder seat at the table in that value chain. I think it’s about scalability, too.

NCN: Tell me about your Native CDFI, Wisconsin Native Loan Fund. What is its mission, and how does it work to foster prosperity in the communities it serves?

Johnson: Our mission is to simply increase the financial self-sufficiency of Native communities in Wisconsin. We do that through a couple of different ways: education and technical assistance, and that access to affordable capital. We’re not a predatory lender. We’re not going to have exorbitant interest rates. Also, the message that needs to be told is that we’re not a handout. It’s not a grant. It’s actually a loan. WINLF is providing a hand-up, not a hand-out in our approach. You walk in our door, if you have a 400 or 500 credit score, we’re going to be able to get you into a loan, but there may be a caveat that goes along with that. You might have to go to financial literacy classes on home buyer education, credit building, or estate planning or even the small business classes that we provide. That TA [technical assistance] that we’re offering goes hand in hand with the dollars that we provide. We have a very strategic approach – we provide access to affordable capital and we’re providing financial education and asset-building services. We’re increasing our clients’ self-sufficiency and improving the economic and social conditions of the communities that we serve.

NCN: A recent news article about WINLF mentioned that the delinquency rates on its loans are lower than most banks and lending institutions. How would you explain WINLF outperforming other lenders in this regard?

“It’s knowing who we’re selling to and then making sure our attention and technical assistance is appropriately directed toward them. That benefits them to the point where they’re inspired, and they want to pay us back.”

Johnson: It boils down to relationships. It’s about getting to know our clients and their experience while improving the customer experience. It’s knowing who we’re selling to and then making sure our attention and technical assistance is appropriately directed toward them. That benefits them to the point where they’re inspired, and they want to pay us back. That’s why it boils down to relationships. We try to help absolutely every single person that walks in the door. We try in some fashion to give them some financial literacy help. In essence, a relationship-based arrangement is what it is.

NCN: WINLF has a heavy focus on homeownership and your CDFI recently achieved formal HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] certification as a housing counseling agency for its work in homeownership with pre-purchase and post-purchase training, foreclosure prevention, and assisting families to qualify for mortgages and refinances. Can you talk about why WINLF went that route, what it’s empowered you to do, and how it’s benefiting the community and the CDFI itself?

Johnson: Forest County Potawatomi, for example, hasn’t been a HUD lender or hasn’t had HUD dollars in the door for the last 10 years. This is an opportunity gap that exists among the various tribal governments and tribal communities that we serve. WINLF stays abreast of the housing rules. We’re trying to ultimately get everyone into home ownership. Being a HUD counselor is a priority for us. We have two people that are certified to be counselors, and we are looking at getting another individual certified as well. HUD sponsors these individuals to provide mortgage counseling to avoid default as well as provide options for a pending default. It serves our mission, it serves our purpose very well.

NCN: Your CDFI supports tribal citizens from all walks of life in various ways. Can you share with us an inspiring success story of an individual client you work or have worked with?

Johnson: Amy and Cale Hacker live in Oneida, Wisconsin, and they own a company called White Buffalo Trucking (WBT). About a year and a half ago, they borrowed a sizable business loan to build a shop for their trucking business. They own three or four dump trucks and they’ve had some success doing state DOT [Department of Transportation] work and they wanted to expand. They didn’t have quite the squeaky-clean credit or history that a bank would need to give them a rubber stamp approval. If they were a rubber stamp, then they wouldn’t have needed to come to us. But they did. I’ve known Amy and Cale for probably 10 years. WINLF provided WBT a small business loan to build a new truck shop and they put a lot of sweat equity into building their new structure. The shop is almost completed and honestly, their business has blown up. Their business has really improved because now they have their own shop where they can service their dump trucks and they’re able to perform all of the maintenance work on their trucks themselves. Before, they were working out of their basement or out of their garage, which is kind of limited for a commercial operation. I’ve just been totally blown away with how well and how far they’ve taken those dollars and made them stretch.

NCN: The Native CDFI Network published a report last year documenting the extraordinary difference that Native CDFIs have made in helping Indian Country respond to – and recover from – COVID-19 pandemic. How has your CDFI supported the communities it serves through the pandemic?

Johnson: All the while during COVID, WINLF was open for business. We stayed engaged and we were in contact with our clients. We relaxed some repayment requirements or deferred them during COVID, too. But we stayed engaged. We stayed in contact with all of our clients and had weekly conversations with them so that we could anticipate any defaults. We also offered small loans for alleviating the burden during COVID. And we pushed out the repayment time so they could get back to work and pay that obligation off later. So we tried to work with the community.

Amy Hacker, Co-Owner of White Buffalo Trucking, LLC (Courtesy: White Buffalo Trucking, LLC)

NCN: From your perspective, what do Native CDFIs like yours need to realize their full potential? What support do they need to achieve their missions and maximize their impact?

Johnson: Native CDFIs need to work to become larger in order to scale up. You need to have that to create economic development on a larger scale for Native communities. We know the history of how the process works, even with real estate development work. This is an area where CDFIs can move further down the value chain. If there’s an infrastructure development or a business that wants to expand or even come on to trust land, it would be helpful to have CDFIs at the table for our expertise because we know how to fill it up with tenants after the development has been created. I think that it’s important that we make CDFIs integral in the economic development value chain.

One last thing I think is important: WINLF’s self-sufficiency ratio has been above 40 percent for the last five years. It hasn’t dipped below 40 percent, which is the minimum prudent standard for the U.S. Treasury. The point is that we’re working towards complete self-sufficiency, and that we can get enough earned income in the door annually to sustain us so we won’t be so dependent on grant monies. The goal is to be self-sufficient and no longer have to rely on the federal government.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund, please click here.