Loans are available to those who work at least 20 hours a week. Once a loan is paid off, the employee can immediately request to borrow again.
The decision, said Amanda Grappone Osmer, co-owner of the dealership group, was a "no-brainer."
"We just want to recognize that we have some resources that we can share, short term, that will, when we spread it around … help a lot more people," Osmer said.
The revised program replaces the previous one that allowed employees to borrow for wellness-related items such as gym memberships and bicycles. The group also relaxed several requirements. For example, the money can be used to cover everyday bills, and receipts are no longer required to prove the money is being used for related purchases.
"We trust that the people are going to be using it for what they need it for," Osmer said. "And I know that some people use it to pay bills or just try to pass themselves through from one week to the next if they're short on cash, and we're perfectly fine with that."
Administrators don't even ask employees to provide a reason for their requests, Racine said. "That would prevent people from asking for it even if they really need it," she said.
Grappone has 24 active loans out, compared with 19 on Feb. 28, Racine said. The dealership group, which sold 3,490 new vehicles and 2,737 used vehicles in 2019, has 330 employees. Grappone has put five employees on furlough during the pandemic, she said.
"People are very happy to know they can receive a loan of up to $500, interest free, and pay it back at $25 per week," Racine said.
Osmer said the expanded loan program also is intended to help mitigate possible effects the pandemic is having on employees' "psychological health."
"We just want, if at all possible, to relieve the toxic stress [in] people's lives that's associated with not being able to pay for your kids to go to summer camp, or even if it's something like paying your own bills every month," Osmer said.
There's no planned end date for the program. The loans pose a "negligible" amount of possible financial burden for the dealership group, she said.
What's important is helping people, added Osmer, who recommends such a program to other dealerships as a "creative" and cost-efficient way to help employees.
"It sends a real solid message to your team members that they matter very much, which they do," she said.