Lower income district residents plagued by rising heating oil bills can now apply for loans of between $300 and $500 at any of the 14 banks that are members of the D.C. Bankers' Association.
The program, unusual because of the small value of the loans, was announced yesterday by the bankers association and City Council member Wihelmina Rolark.
City regulations limit interest rates on consumer loans to 11 percent, a figure that several of the bankers said they would adopt in their programs. At 11 percent, the loans are being granted below interest rates banks pay for their money.
Rolark said the program, which she suggested to the association, is a response to the "real problem of people freezing to death" if they cannot pay their heating oil bills.
Although city officials and bankers do not know how many people might apply for the loans, which must be repaid before the following winter, they say they can meet the anticipated response.
"I would guess that a million dollars is far and away more than we'd be called upon the loan," said Dale Jernberg, president of the National Bank of Washington.
Jernberg, who is also president of the association, said in an interview that the program is primarily directed at families with an income below $15,000.
District officials hope to have emergency funds available for grants to the poor. The loan program is directed to what the bankers called "credit-worthy" people.
The bankers said that the loans will not generate any profits for their institutions, claiming that it costs them just over $60 to process any loan.
As for the city's poor, City Council member John Wilson has already asked Mayor Barry to allocate at least $1.5 million for grants to the city's poor.
The bankers agreed yesterday that the city would have to fund the needs of the poor. "the city is going to have to take care of the poor and indigent," said John Sumter, vice chairman of American Security Bank.
They urged people who do business with city banks to first try their own banks before seeking the loans elsewhere. Furthermore, they repeatedly stressed that applicants will have to show their heating bills and demonstrate their ability to repay the loans quickly.
Although the association announcement applies only to people who heat their homes with oil, Jernberg said he had ordered National Bank of Washington employes to accept loan applications from people who cannot meet their heating bills, regardless of the fuel method.