Why Congress must help nonprofits

Why Congress must help nonprofits
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We are living through a once in a lifetime crisis. While the loss of life has certainly been devastating, we should recognize that this pandemic has created several other victims. Many small business owners and low wage workers have lost their livelihoods, while countless local shops are closed forever. People who were struggling are becoming even more vulnerable. Low wage workers, especially in urban centers and communities of color, are unfortunately more likely to lose their jobs during this crisis.

Governments are already stretched to mobilize for support of vulnerable populations. Charitable nonprofits represent the best of our nation, and they often serve as the last line of defense for those most in need. There are more than one million charitable nonprofits across the country that serve, feed, shelter, and educate people year round. As the coronavirus continues to spread, it is clear how essential nonprofit services are with providing a buffer for our communities when they need it most.

Rena is a single mother who is diagnosed with the coronavirus and must stay in the hospital to fight for her life. She does not have extended family nearby to care for her children. Her kids could be at risk of placement into foster care. She learns about a program that will surround her family with compassion and allow her to access the medical care needed to recover while her children are cared for by families in the community. She is now back together with her kids because of this charitable nonprofit.

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This is one instance of the critical support that human services nonprofits provide communities across the nation during this pandemic. Nonprofits provide necessary front line assistance for families in a crisis. So as more than 36 million Americans now struggle with unemployment and so many more experience worsening mental and financial health, demand for child welfare, social services, and community outreach is increasing.

But all that demand has come at a time when funding for nonprofits is at its most precarious. With fundraising events canceled and many donors stretched thin, charitable nonprofits face a crippling revenue crunch. If nonprofits around the nation cannot continue their services, the impact will be felt in families and communities who need assistance now more than ever before in the face of this unprecedented pandemic.

I have seen the impact of the coronavirus on the foster care system and the children it serves firsthand. In many cases, dedicated foster families are also experiencing economic instability and the challenges of home school demands, while conducting virtual visits with biological parents. Like all families, foster families are stepping up to do their best in these challenging times, but they need that individual guidance and support only a dedicated nonprofit child welfare agency can provide.

Compounding this predicament is the reality that hardships triggered by the coronavirus could lead to more drug abuse, alcoholism, and domestic violence, putting additional pressure on the foster care system to provide a safe environment for the children in need. To ensure that all children are provided for, human service nonprofits need to remain viable. The foster care system could be overwhelmed by demand without them.

Investing in organizations that support families and keep children safe is more important than ever. That is why Congress needs to fill that gap and support human service nonprofit organizations. While the Cares Act does a lot to provide assistance to small businesses and struggling Americans, more relief is needed. Nonprofits need payroll protection, more access to forgivable loans, and incentives to encourage charitable giving.

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Congress has to provide state governments with the funding they require to protect and enhance charitable organizations serving on the front lines of this pandemic. Unlike the federal government, states cannot borrow to cover any extra expenditures. As tax revenues fall, states are running out of ways to fund vital programs such as nonprofit social services.

I understand the challenge that states face with tax revenue loss and the need to cut budgets. But our nation cannot afford cuts to human services in this crisis. Steep cuts to human services will cause a ripple effect felt in families and communities across the country. The delivery of child welfare services has been a successful public private partnership for decades. So if this partnership crumbles, critical services will not be available to many people, and the burden on the government will simply increase.

Employees of human service nonprofits are essential workers providing essential services for neighbors who need it most. They are on the front lines of care, trying to flatten the curve of another crisis that may come because of the coronavirus. It is why our federal and state leaders must ensure that nonprofits can continue to help Americans in need.

Nathan Bult is vice president of government affairs at Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit organization which supports children and families.