There’s Still Time!
Sign onto the Nonprofit COVID Relief Letter to Federal Leaders
The House appears to be on the verge of enacting President Biden’s call for $1.9 trillion in immediate COVID relief. As reported below, some nonprofit priorities are recognized in pending legislation, but much more is needed. The nonprofit community, through a letter signed by more than 3,000 organizations, calls on Congress and the Administration to expand access to forgivable loans, extend and increase charitable giving incentives, improve federal coverage of the unemployment costs of reimbursing employers, and provide substantial financial aid to state and local governments. Help promote improvements to this legislation by (1) signing your organization onto the nonprofit coalition letter, and then (2) forwarding the letter to your colleagues at other nonprofits to increase the number and thereby nonprofits’ clout.
Read the Letter ♦ Sign On Now! ♦ Forward the Letter
Happening This Week
Congress Advancing $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Legislation
After weeks of committee activity, the House of Representatives is scheduled this week to debate and pass the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief legislation. The nearly 600-page bill would provide additional funding for COVID-19 vaccines, treatment, and testing; approve $1,400 stimulus checks for most taxpayers; extend unemployment benefits; increase the child tax credit and earned income tax credit; and extend the tax credit for nonprofits and other employers that offer paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave through September 30, 2021 (it is currently set to expire on March 31). Further, it would provide more funding for childcare providers, the Corporation for National and Community Service, arts and humanities organizations, food assistance, housing and homelessness prevention, and nonprofits providing services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The bill also would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, although that provision may not survive scrutiny under Senate procedures or may lack the votes to keep it in.
Below is a breakdown of the progress on some of the policy priorities identified in the nonprofit coalition letter to congressional leaders:
- Expand Access to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans. The bill would allow some larger nonprofits to apply for PPP loans for the first time by expanding eligibility to nonprofits with more than 500 employees that operate at multiple locations as long as no more than 500 employees work at any one location. It also would remove a rule that makes some nonprofits ineligible for PPP loans if they are affiliates of national organizations. (Sec. 6001)
- Extend and Enhance Federal Unemployment Coverage. The COVID relief package would extend various federal benefits for unemployed workers – including coverage for self-employed workers and staff of religious and very small nonprofits, as well as increase the per week supplemental federal payments from $300 to $400 – through August 29, 2021. Currently, these benefits are scheduled to expire on March 14. Notably for nonprofits, the bill would prospectively improve the federal coverage of the unemployment costs of reimbursing nonprofits from 50% to 75% during the period April 1 through August 29. (Sec. 9012)
- Provide $350 Billion in Aid to State and Local Governments. (Sec. 5001)
- Make no changes to the universal charitable deduction. Increasing the current universal or above-the-line deduction ($300/individual; $600/couples) remains a high priority of the nonprofit community and among some in Congress.
If the House passes the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 this week, the measure advances to the Senate where it will benefit from an expedited process that is not subject to a filibuster and can pass by majority vote. Senate Democrats can pass the bill without Republican votes, but President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) have said they are willing to alter the legislation to attract bipartisan support, but only if negotiations can be concluded quickly.
White House Partnerships Office Reestablished
Last week, President Biden signed an Executive Order reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (White House Partnerships Office). The Office will be housed within the Executive Office of the President, supported by the Domestic Policy Council and the Office of Public Engagement. The purpose of the Office is to take “lead responsibility in the executive branch for establishing policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government’s comprehensive effort to enlist, equip, enable, empower, and expand the work of community-serving organizations, both faith-based and secular, to the extent permitted by law.” According to a Fact Sheet, the priority areas of the Office are: COVID relief; combatting systemic racism; increasing opportunity and mobility for historically disadvantaged communities; advancing international development and global humanitarian work; and strengthening pluralism and respect for constitutional guarantees. Melissa Rogers, who led the Office for four years during the Obama Administration, is serving as Executive Director of the Partnerships Office. In a letter to the Administration, the National Council of Nonprofits offered the support and assistance of its network, “a trusted resource for accessing information about charitable nonprofits and identifying solutions to problems they face in serving their communities.”
- Nonprofit Layoffs Continue: Nonprofit employment declined again in January, bringing the toll of nonprofit jobs lost due to the pandemic to almost 960,000, according to a new report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. The report states, “These lost jobs include 36.3% of all workers in nonprofit arts and entertainment organizations; 16% of nonprofit education workers; 11% of all workers in nonprofit religious, grant-making, and civic associations; over 8% of workers in nonprofit social service institutions; and more than 3% of nonprofit health care workers.” Based on employment patterns, the Center estimates it will take the sector 23.6 months — or nearly 2 years — to return to its pre-COVID level of employment.
- Prioritizing Very Small Organization PPP Loans: President Biden is announcing today a two-week period in which the Small Business Administration will only process Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for employers with fewer than 20 employees and those that are minority owned. The priority period will run from February 24 through March 9. The Administration is also clarifying access to loans by non-citizen lawful residents and eliminating two restrictions that frustrate access to PPP loans: one dealing with individuals with non-fraud felony convictions and the other relating to individuals with delinquent federal student loans.
- Housing Security Protections Extended: The Biden Administration extended a federal moratorium on home foreclosures for another three months and expanded assistance for people behind on their mortgage payments during the coronavirus pandemic. The actions announced last week extend through June 30, 2021 the following protections: 1) the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners; 2) the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window for borrowers who wish to request forbearance; and 3) up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance, in three-month increments, for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30, 2020.
- Delay of IRS Filing Deadlines Requested: The IRS should again push back the April 15 tax return deadline, several Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee wrote in a letter to IRS Commissioner Rettig. The IRS delayed most filing deadlines to July 15 last year to give taxpayers relief due to the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers state, “many Americans continue to face the same challenges that necessitated extending the filing season last year.” Last year, the IRS also extended until July 15, 2020 the deadline for nonprofits to file their informational tax returns.
- Relief for Reimbursing Employers Introduced: Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Sean Casten (D-IL) introduced the Emergency Unemployment Relief for Nonprofits Act, legislation that would increase the federal coverage of the unemployment costs of reimbursing employers from 50% to 75% between April 1 and October 3, 2021. The text of the legislation (with a shorter sunset date) was included in the unemployment provisions of the House Ways and Means Committee budget reconciliation bill. The news release announcing the bill quoted Laura Pierce of Washington Nonprofits: “Nonprofit jobs are down an estimated 7.4% nationally. Increasing federal reimbursement to self-insured nonprofits is the biggest step we can take right now to preserve the nonprofits we love and increase employment in our sector.”
- Charitable Giving Update: Giving to small nonprofits (those with revenues of less than $1 million) declined by 7.2 percent last year, according to the Blackbaud Institute’s annual Charitable Giving Report. Overall donations in 2020 grew by 2 percent because giving to big organizations (revenues greater than $10 million) increased by 5.3 percent, and to mid-size organizations (revenues between $1 million and $10 million) rose by 1.2 percent. See Overall Giving Ticked Up Slightly in 2020, but Online Giving Exploded, Report Says, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Feb. 16, 2021.
More States Recognize Need to Support Nonprofits
State lawmakers have been considering legislation to advance and fund state grant programs that may benefit nonprofits, and proposals continue to be introduced. Arizona legislators have introduced a new $5 million grant program to assist arts organizations reopen and recover (HB 2755 / SB 1385). Another proposal in the Grand Canyon State would provide $1 million for coordinated hunger services. The Small Business Grant Program in Utah would provide funding for nonprofits and businesses with 250 or fewer employees to cover up to three months of operational expenses, including rent, equipment and inventory costs, payroll, insurance, and other expenses associated with a decline in revenue due to COVID-19. In New Mexico, the Vibrant Communities Act would provide direct or indirect assistance to nonprofits assisting sick and indigent residents, promoting health and economic development via the purchase, lease, or acquisition of land or buildings and other aid where needed. In New Hampshire, the Save Our Granite Stages Act would establish a grants fund to provide targeted assistance and long-term planning support for independent live venues.
A North Carolina law signed by the Governor this month allocates federal COVID relief monies, extends the deadline for spending grants supporting nonprofit programs, and extends the state tax credit for families with children in remote education. Last week, Maryland Governor Hogan signed into law a $1.1 billion COVID RELIEF Act that authorizes the Small Business Development Financing Authority to convert up to $50,000 of financing for nonprofits and small businesses to a grant. The new law also exempts unemployment coronavirus relief payments from adjusted gross income and makes appropriations for the state health commission, arts council, economic development authority, community colleges, and community services.
Some Nonprofit Employers Receive Unemployment Relief
As unemployment insurance claims continue to clog up state systems, lawmakers push for relief in their states. In Hawai’i, proposed legislation would freeze tax rates and experience ratings and provide a credit to reimbursing employers, i.e., charitable nonprofits and local and tribal governments that opted out of the state unemployment system. Legislation advancing in North Carolina would maintain the base rate for state unemployment tax at its current level. It would also extend the noncharging period for COVID-related unemployment claims through the end of the year, effectively holding harmless reimbursing employers in the state. Under a recently enacted law in Maryland, both contributing and reimbursing employers with fewer than 50 employees may defer payments, interest-free, until the end of the year, and may receive authorization for further deferral in 2022. Washington State lawmakers passed legislation to stop an automatic tax rate or experience rating increase. A COVID liability bill awaiting signature by the Wisconsin Governor would also extend noncharging benefits for unemployment claims for contributing and reimbursing employers through March 13, 2021.
Census Data, Redistricting Delayed
The U.S. Census Bureau announced this month that census data needed for redistricting purposes would not be available until Sept. 30, 2021. Data will be delivered to all states at once rather than on a rolling basis. States use census data to draw legislative maps and boundaries for voting purposes. The delay in data will force some states, such as Colorado, to fail to meet constitutional deadlines to redraw maps. Many observers, including nonprofits, are concerned that the reduced time to develop maps may open the door for last minute actions by partisan operatives to bypass independent commissions and other transparency measures in place to avoid such shenanigans. In other states, the time crunch could allow for gerrymandering to keep some in power for another election cycle. The Michigan Nonprofit Association recently launched its Citizens Redistricting Campaign to combat these inequities by mobilizing nonprofits to advocate for fair and impartial district maps.
It’s Easy. Look Them Up and Introduce Yourself.
Almost all legislatures across the country are in full swing, and in many cases rushing to make up for lost time from quarantines and trying to get things through quickly in case something else goes wrong. The way legislatures meet has taken on new forms. In response, advocates have been changing how they communicate with lawmakers, requiring creativity and persistence. BUT, the core of advocacy remains the same: find out who represents you and introduce yourself.
The Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) teased out this point during a virtual meeting with a state Senator. The call, a casual affair where listeners were encouraged to turn off their cameras and simply enjoy the conversation, dug into how important it is for everyone to engage in their legislative process because everyone has something to bring to the table.
The Senator, Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth), hit hard on the fact that not enough people call their elected officials to talk about the issues that matter most to them. She revealed that five calls were enough to sway a vote on big issues affecting the state and communities.
The state association of nonprofits sent out a useful guide after the call: 5 Easy Steps to Connect with Your Legislators. They start with finding out who to reach out to and then simply doing so:
- Look up your legislators [MANP provides the link for Maine lawmakers; Congress.gov provides a helpful page for finding state legislature websites.]
- Locate their contact information.
- Draft a message using email, text, Facebook messenger, or voicemail.
- Send your message: identify the issues you care deeply about and urge your legislators to take action this session.
- Find more guidance on MANP’s Advocacy web pages, follow its 2021 events, and check out the searchable Answer Center!
The resources and answer center have general application regardless of geographic location. MANP emphasizes, “Nonprofit organizations play a central role in the democratic process by providing a means for public participation and promotion of the common good. … [N]onprofits should encourage and support constituent participation in these efforts. Open communication and consultation between policy makers and constituents of nonprofit organizations contribute to the creation and effective implementation of well-informed policies.”
We’ll close with the advice of the Maine Senator: “Just pick up the phone, say this is who I am, this is what I care about, let me know how I can help.” She advised, “Be a resource and be reasonable – and be friendly.”
Positive advice we all can, and should, follow.
Read more examples of Advocacy in Action,
a regular feature of Nonprofit Advocacy Updates.