Nonprofits need congressional action to continue our life-changing work
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Nonprofit organizations are providing essential relief as part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. How effectively the nation continues to combat COVID-19, and how quickly we recover from this unprecedented health and economic crisis, will depend on the ability of charitable organizations to provide critical services and support in communities nationwide.

As leaders of some of the nation’s largest volunteer health charities, we are witnessing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on individuals and families – particularly those with preexisting health conditions. We are also experiencing firsthand the extreme pressures the coronavirus pandemic is putting on the nonprofit sector and its capacity to respond to the millions who need help.

The people we serve are among those most at risk. They are individuals with one or more health conditions that may increase their chances of developing serious complications from COVID-19. For them, and for the millions of people nationwide living with a serious chronic disease, a battle with COVID-19 is a battle for their life.

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Our organizations, and the thousands of other charitable groups serving communities across the country, have responded to this unprecedented crisis at an unprecedented scale. Collectively, we are providing critical information about the virus and its impact on at-risk populations, answering questions from worried families and consulting with public health officials on keeping communities safe. We are investing in and translating scientific research on COVID-19, evaluating prevention methods and potential treatments, and working with health care providers to provide the best possible care, rooted in science. We are providing vital services to help families protect and promote their health during the pandemic, and we are sustaining the close sense of community that is the lifeblood of chronic disease populations.

Patients and their families need us now more than ever before. Congress must acknowledge that need by prioritizing the organizations that are helping countless families through this crisis and will play an essential role in lifting communities out of it. The nation needs nonprofits to remain strong and sustainable so groups like ours can continue serving the communities we are uniquely equipped to help. Yet fundraising and other sources of income have dropped sharply in the wake of this crisis, resulting in severe restrictions on our ability to assist and putting the very existence of many nonprofit groups in jeopardy.

Congress provided some support for the charitable sector in the CARES Act, but the legislation left larger nonprofits out of loan forgiveness and other provisions that enable organizations to retain staff and meet the challenges posed by the pandemic. Like businesses of all sizes, the entire charitable sector is suffering under the weight of canceled events, unforeseen crisis-related costs and numerous other factors that have sharply reduced charitable giving.

Larger nonprofits with more than 500 employees were included in the CARES Act under an optional Treasury loan program alongside mid-size businesses. Although the Federal Reserve Board has expanded the scope and eligibility for the Main Street Lending program, it has not yet included nonprofits. Legislation should expressly allow the Treasury Department to offer loan forgiveness options to maintain staff and include terms applicable to nonprofits.

Congress should direct Treasury to expressly include charities and allow loan forgiveness modeled on the terms offered to smaller charities. We need congressional champions to help stabilize the charitable sector, which employs more than 12 million passionate people nationwide – 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. Congress also should broaden tax-deductible giving incentives for all charities by enacting a more robust universal charitable deduction and incentives to encourage more giving by seniors, including the bipartisan Legacy IRA Act.

We represent thousands of employees, tens of millions of volunteers and supporters, and countless patients and families who reside in every state and congressional district in this country. We are united in our missions to serve, but we need lawmakers to provide financial relief for our organizations. The CARES Act must be strengthened to ensure that our vital work can continue.

Nancy Brown is CEO of the American Heart Association; Tracey D. Brown is CEO of the American Diabetes Association; Harry Johns is CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association; Gary Reedy is CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; and Harold Wimmer is president and CEO of the American Lung Association.