Tell Your Story
If a Nonprofit Fell
If a nonprofit fell in the forest, would it make a sound? Here’s a less philosophical question: If a nonprofit closed, or struggled, or had to cut back on services – and made a lot of noise – would policymakers notice and do something about it? The answer is absolutely YES, if the community joins together, makes noise, and demands action.
That’s the idea behind this ask: take a minute to share your nonprofit’s story with us so we can continue lifting up your stories and advocating for the solutions our communities need. Your voice counts. And so do the voices of others. Please feel free to share our request with others. Thank you.
The State of Play
Actions in the Face of Inaction
In the weeks since official negotiations over COVID-relief legislation reached a stalemate, players in and outside of government have taken action to give the appearance of progress or to demand real results. Earlier this month, the President signed four documents touching on – but according to most analysts, not solving – some of the issues held up in the negotiations, including employee payroll taxes, extended unemployment benefits, an eviction moratorium, and deferral of federal student loan payments. This past week, Senate Republicans floated a “skinny” draft bill that would cost half as much ($500 billion) as the HEALS Act they proposed in July. Democrats have remained firm in their demand that Republicans commit to a larger spending package. Over the weekend, the House passed a bill to provide additional funding for the U.S. Postal Service, an action seen as increasing pressure on the Administration to return to the bargaining table.
Off “the Hill,” frustration is growing that no real progress is evident, so individuals and groups are taking action. On Wednesday, MomsRising and numerous progressive organizations promoted a “tweetstorm” using the unifying theme of #DoYourJob, mostly targeting Senate Republicans. The U.S. Chamber launched its own “Cost of Inaction” campaign that highlights challenges that can only be resolved through federal COVID-relief legislation. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, the Minnesota
Budget Project, and 150+ nonprofits sent a letter to the Minnesota congressional delegation “urging federal leaders to get back to work and pass another robust COVID relief funding package of aid to states and direct supports for people.” The letter explains, “The global pandemic and community uprisings against racial inequity are revealing more of the injustices that have always been present where nonprofits live and work. Failure to respond quickly and effectively will deepen racial inequity and result in a deeper and longer-lasting recession.” If you are committed to the wellbeing of nonprofits and communities,
you can take the following steps to demand action:
- 2020 Census: The Administration has announced two significant changes to the census counting process that will alter how $1.5 trillion in federal funds are allocated annually, how congressional seats are apportioned, and what quality of data businesses, governments, nonprofits, and the public will have to inform planning and decision-making for the next decade. One change cuts short the time for conducting the 2020 census and reporting the data. The other directs that certain people be excluded in the final count. For more details about these changes and what nonprofits are doing to stop these attempts to undercount the population, read this edition’s Advocacy in Action, below.
- Employee Payroll Tax Deferral Order: The President’s executive memorandum allowing employees to defer paying federal payroll taxes is finding few supporters. Initially, the U.S. Chamber and the American Institute of CPAs sought answers to questions and concerns. This past week, more than 30 business associations sent a letter to Congress and the U.S. Department of Treasury urging them to work toward a legislative solution, calling the executive memo “unworkable,” and warning that many businesses “will likely decline to implement deferral, choosing instead to continue to withhold and remit to the government the payroll taxes required by law.” Also last week, 142 Democratic Members of the House sent a letter to the President demanding that he reverse “recent executive action on Social Security payroll taxes and abandon your call to defund Social Security by eliminating the payroll tax permanently.”
- Extending Unemployment Benefits: The President’s executive memorandum purportedly offering an extra $400 in unemployment benefits has drawn questions and criticisms. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Administration is offering to use federal disaster relief funds (DRF) to provide supplemental payments for lost wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government is offering to pay $300 per week and urging states to use their funds, including Coronavirus Relief Funds, to pay an additional $100 per week. About half the states have applied. Rejecting the President’s approach, more than 100 House Democrats sent a letter to their leaders urging a vote on the Worker Relief and Security Act (H.R. 7821), a bill that “would automatically continue, expand, and adjust enhanced unemployment insurance programs based on public health and economic triggers through the duration of the crisis without the need for further congressional
- Extending Non-Payments to PSLF: Borrowers qualifying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness will automatically have federal loan payments and interest suspended through Dec. 30, and non-payments will continue to count towards the required 120 qualifying payments under the program, according to a press release from Education Secretary DeVos. The action follows the President’s executive memorandum to continue student loan relief from earlier this year, which was initially scheduled to expire Sep. 30.
Additionally, collections on defaulted federal loans and wage garnishments will be stopped through the end of the year. Borrowers may choose to make payments at the zero percent interest rate. More information is available on the U.S. Department of Education Coronavirus webpage.
- SALT Regulations: The IRS published final rules this month incorporating previously issued guidance on when taxpayers can and cannot deduct the full value of charitable donations that also generate state or local tax credits. The guidance and the new regulations were made necessary because of the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions enacted as part of the 2017 tax law. The impact of the regulations will only matter to individual taxpayers who itemize SALT and charitable deductions, as well as to the charitable and governmental nonprofits that benefit from donations that trigger state and local tax
credits. See the analysis, Payments to Charities, from the NEO Law Firm for more information.
- Promoting PPP Loan Forgiveness: Earlier this summer, Senator Cramer (R-ND) and three colleagues introduced the Paycheck Protection Small Business Forgiveness Act (S. 4117), a bipartisan bill that would forgive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of up to $150,000 with the filing of a one-page attestation form. This past week, the state associations of nonprofits from Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina, and North Dakota, and the National Council of Nonprofits sent a letter to the sponsors of the legislation expressing appreciation and strong support for their bipartisan bill to “eliminate or greatly reduce unnecessary paperwork and the bureaucratically complex, time-consuming, and costly processes borrowers of smaller sums would have to go through just to find out whether they have to pay back the loans.” The joint letter stresses, “Importantly, this legislation could save small nonprofits, for-profit businesses, and lenders $8.4 billion in compliance costs.” Some of the bill was included in the Senate Republican’s proposed PPP reform bills.
National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) is September 22!
Sign up to join the nationwide effort to register hundreds of thousands of voters four weeks from tomorrow. As an official partner, your nonprofit will receive a free voter registration kit and access to other opportunities to support your nonpartisan voter registration work. Join Nonprofit VOTE on Sep. 2 for a
free webinar for tips on how your organization can promote your NVRD event. Then check out the Nonprofits Countdown to the Election activation calendar for weekly reminders delivered right to your calendar.
States Make Cuts, Close Budget Gaps
With talks for federal aid for coronavirus relief efforts stalled, states are forced to address their budget deficits and close gaps caused by the pandemic without factoring in hoped-for additional resources. The New York state budget deficit has grown to over $14 billion. The New York Division of Budget has responded by withholding portions of local aid payments to achieve a balanced budget, cutting claims submitted by nonprofits and others by 20 percent. The State Budget Director has already withheld
approximately $1.5 billion and expects to continue to withhold payments “in the absence of unrestricted Federal aid.”
The Oregon Legislature recently closed a $1.2 billion gap in the current two-year budget, cutting $362 million in general fund spending, with most of the reductions to human services programs, according to a legislative analysis. A separate law enacted during the recent special session will allow unemployed workers to earn up to $300 a week and still qualify for full unemployment benefits. Lawmakers in Virginia reconvened in special session to deal with an anticipated $2 billion shortfall and other issues, including expanding broadband, increasing support to historically Black colleges and universities, and funding for elections.
States Continue to Respond to UI Guidance
Workforce agencies in multiple states continue to respond to the new federal law reversing the DOL unemployment guidance. Most state workforce agencies that have issued unemployment invoices to self-insured (sometimes called reimbursing) employers have dialed the bills back to just 50 percent. There are some outliers, good and bad. On the positive side, recently passed legislation in Illinois has nonprofits and other self-insured employers celebrating that they now pay nothing. The state’s new clarification directs: “For weeks of benefits from March 15, 2020 through December 26, 2020, if the claimant’s unemployment was due directly or indirectly to COVID-19, pay $0.” State administrators in South Dakota have decided to go in the opposite direction and charge 100 percent. As a result, nonprofits and others in the state are forced to divert funds now to pay unemployment costs to the state and get reimbursed half of that amount at some point in the future.
Taking Notice of Nonprofit Impact, Challenges
Since early in the pandemic, many journalists have recognized that charitable nonprofits were both stepping up to the crisis while also struggling with their own challenges to survive. Stories of nonprofit impact appeared on the front page of The New York Times and in The Wall Street Journal, which in turn generated additional newspaper, radio, and television coverage. Recently, a radio station in New Jersey ran a segment, NJ Nonprofits Need Donations As They Fight to Survive Amid COVID, in which Linda Czipo of the Center for Non-Profits explained the immediate challenges nonprofits are facing and promoted action to strengthen the work of charitable nonprofits in the Garden State. According to Czipo, "Organization missions are so diverse, but the beauty is that organizations have a lot in common in that they are trying to make communities better, to provide services and programs that people need." Similarly, a CBS affiliate in Raleigh reported on NC nonprofits struggling amid COVID-19 crisis just as services are needed most. The segment featured David Heinen of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, who discussed the Center’s survey data and explained that the PPP “was a stop-gap way of providing funding for organizations, but there’s really a need for some additional support.” Let us know how COVID-19 is affecting your nonprofit.
Continuing the Fight for a Fair, Accurate, and Complete Census Count
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Administration’s effort to disrupt the census count by adding a citizenship question to the questionnaire, ruling the Commerce Secretary’s rationale for doing so was “contrived.” The National Council of Nonprofits predicted then “there will be many legal contortions between now and the date all residents in the United States complete the 2020 Census.” Unfortunately, our prediction was accurate – the Administration recently took additional actions to undermine the census count. Fortunately, nonprofits have reached into their advocacy
toolboxes for ways to protect a fair, accurate, and complete count.
Advocacy via Litigation
Nonprofits have joined with states, counties, cities, and individuals to file lawsuits in federal courts challenging these recent actions as being unconstitutional and violating multiple statutes. In response to the announced plan by the Census Bureau to cut the time to complete the 2020 Census and process the data, at least one lawsuit has been filed so far. The complaint alleges “the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau suddenly and without explanation reversed course and replaced the Bureau’s COVID-19 Plan with a new one (the ‘Rush Plan’). The Bureau’s Rush Plan requires the Bureau to
complete eight and a half months of data-collection and data-processing in half the time. It ignores the multi-month delay in census data-collection that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. It compels a final date for delivering apportionment data to the President that Bureau officials have repeatedly asserted they cannot meet.”
Separately, five different lawsuits are challenging the President’s July 21 executive memorandum directing that when the Census Bureau tabulates the state population totals, it should exclude undocumented immigrants from the numbers for state apportionment purposes. According to one of the filed suits, that directive “breaks with almost 250 years of past practice,” “flouts the Constitution’s plain language,” and “flies in the face of the statutory scheme governing
Advocacy via Legislation
COVID-19 forced the Census Bureau to suspend its field data collection activities in mid-March, prompting the Bureau to ask Congress for a 120-day extension of its deadlines so it could “ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census.” The House passed that extension in its HEROES Act in May. The Senate has not, prompting nonprofits to call on the Senate to also provide the time the census experts said they need for a complete and accurate count.
Advocacy via Action Alerts
The Foraker Group, the state association of nonprofits in Alaska, went directly to the nonprofits in the state by issuing an action alert calling for engagement with federal officials. They explained: “An inaccurate count, delivered earlier, means ten years of inaccuracy.” The Foraker action alert makes clear: “Ending the Census early will shortchange Alaska’s families and economy for the next decade. It undermines the accuracy of the count, and provides no tangible benefits to Alaskans, the public, or the Census Bureau.” The alert provides succinct messaging to aid nonprofits in the state to reach
out to their elected officials in Washington, DC.
Advocacy via Media
Nonprofit leaders are also taking to the media to raise the visibility of the threats to the census. Many are lifting the matter for everyone in the community to see what can be lost – dollars, data, and democracy – which, in turn, can inspire businesses, governments, nonprofits, the public to contact their U.S. Representatives and Senators to tell them to stop the gamesmanship. Notably, Liz Moore, Executive Director of the Montana Nonprofit Association, drafted Census 2020: A Call for Nonprofit Action—Before It’s Too Late!, for Nonprofit Quarterly. In addition to laying out the challenges to
the wellbeing of nonprofits and communities, she warns: “So many problems will be made worse with an undercount, and so many solutions made better with a fair, accurate, and complete count, especially in the months ahead as we contend with the long-term ramifications of COVID-19.”
Nonprofits know very well that America needs and deserves a fair, accurate, and complete census count. And we know that the best place for you to use your voice is with your U.S. Senator, where the issue is bottled up. As Moore calls on us to do: "Now it’s time for all of us to lift up our collective voice to ensure every person in our communities participate in one of the most fundamental actions of our society: that of being counted. Together, despite the challenges we face, we can still make this happen.”
Read more examples of Advocacy in Action,
a regular feature of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters.