Change History – Demand Action NOW!
You have the chance to influence history for the better. Right now, we’re all on a path to the worst because in about two weeks several life-saving, family-saving, job-saving, economy-saving, and nonprofit-saving protections will expire. Twelve million or more of people will lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. Thirty million people could be evicted after the eviction moratorium ends a few days later. Several other federal coronavirus laws will expire – just as the fury of the pandemic kills more than 100 Americans per hour. Yet Congress has failed to renew any of the essential programs, such as emergency funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Tens of millions more people are turning to nonprofits for help already, and those numbers will skyrocket even more unless Congress takes action this week. You can change history by taking these actions:
- Email your two Senators and Representative, sending them the new Nonprofit Community Letter, or using some of these key messages, or both.
- Tweet your Senators and Representative (names and handles here), using one of the sample social posts forwarding the new Nonprofit Community Letter and/or one of the specially designed posts with graphics promoting each of the #Relief4Charities priorities. See samples in the Advocacy in Action article.
- Make your voice even louder by encouraging your colleagues, board members, and volunteers to put pressure on your Senators and Representative. Just click here to forward this message.
Congress Must Act: COVID Relief or Bust
Tens of millions of U.S. residents anxiously await news of whether Senators and Representatives will enact urgently needed COVID relief in the coming days. Last week, Congress gave itself an extension until this Friday to enact a mammoth spending bill to last through September 2021. Lawmakers are likely to attach one or more of the urgently needed COVID-19 relief provisions on which negotiators can agree. Numerous proposals have surfaced in the past two weeks leading to hope that a deal may be within reach. Among those proposals are the $908 billion COVID Emergency Relief Framework offered by eight bipartisan Senators, a variation of a $550 billion Senate GOP plan previously proposed by Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), and a $916 billion proposal from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that parallels the bipartisan plan, but opts for one-time stimulus payments instead of unemployment relief. Key negotiators, however, have steadfastly refused to yield their highest priorities in order to reach a deal, namely Leader McConnell’s insistence on five years of COVID-related liability protections and Democratic demand for hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments. The bipartisan group of Senators has struggled to bridge the gap on these issues, but Senate Republicans consistently reiterate their opposition to financial relief to governments.
The stalemate could break at any moment this week and congressional leaders could announce a small, medium, or large package of relief provisions that could be enacted before the end of next week. A growing number of Senators and Representatives across the political spectrum are going on record insisting that Congress must stay in Washington until it passes COVID relief legislation, up to and including through the holidays. Whether any of the broad nonprofit community policy priorities (see next article) are included still depends on continued nonprofit advocacy.
Nonprofit Policy Priorities in COVID Relief Legislation
The broad charitable nonprofit community is advocating for inclusion of key policy priorities in any COVID relief or spending legislation. Here is a short recap. See the Nonprofit Community Letter for additional context.
- Continue Emergency Funding Programs: (1) Extend and expand the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) by enabling a second round of loans and modifying the eligibility criteria to all nonprofits of all sizes; and (2) Enact and expand grant and funding programs, such as the proposed WORK NOW Act and the Employee Retention Tax Credit, to help nonprofits retain employees, scale service delivery, and create new jobs.
- Strengthen Charitable Giving Incentives: (1) Increase the above-the-line or universal charitable deduction in the CARES Act; and (2) Extend this and the giving incentives enacted in the CARES Act through 2021.
- Provide Full Unemployment Benefit Reimbursement: Increase the federal unemployment insurance reimbursement for reimbursing (self-insured) nonprofits to 100% of costs and extend relief into 2021.
- Labor Department Expands Religious Exemption: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has published its controversial religious exemption final rule that broadens the forms of workplace discrimination protections that faith-based government contractors can refuse to recognize or adhere to. In announcing the new rule, the Labor Department asserts that it is merely clarifying the scope of religious exemption as it has existed for half a century. “This rule will help ensure that religious organizations can fully participate in federal procurement consistent with the First Amendment and other applicable federal laws,” the DOL news release states. Many commentators, however, see the Department’s actions as empowering federal contractors to discriminate against racial and religious minorities, women, and especially LGBTQ people in the name of protecting “religious liberty.”
- Implicit Bias Training EO Faces Skeptical Judge: The executive order banning implicit bias trainings (EO 13950) and related guidance came under harsh scrutiny by a federal judge last week in a hearing in a federal lawsuit filed by six LBGT groups. The judge expressed her view that the restrictions in the EO could be applied in arbitrary and discriminatory ways and discourage speech by federal contractors and vendors even when they are not working on a government contract. The judge did not say when she could rule on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction blocking the EO, but gave them until the end of this week to submit a filing clarifying the scope of the injunction they are seeking.
- PPP Necessity Questionnaire Challenged in Court: This month the Associated General Contractors of America filed a lawsuit challenging the recent SBA Forms 3509 (for-profits) and 3510 (nonprofits) that require PPP borrowers receiving loans of more than $2 million to prove the funds were necessary to their survival. The complaint asserts that the process that produced the forms, and the forms themselves, violate the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Administrative Procedures Act, and that the federal agencies failed to meet the minimum standards for due process. The association is asking the court to declare that the questionnaires are arbitrary and capricious, and to declare that the SBA cannot lawfully use the information that the forms generate to find an organization ineligible for a PPP loan or deny an application for forgiveness of its loan. Separately, SBA put out a new Forgiveness FAQ # 53 on the question: Why are some PPP borrowers receiving a Loan Necessity Questionnaire (SBA Form 3509 or 3510)?
- Student Loan Forbearance Extended: Student loan borrowers will continue to be automatically placed into forbearance with zero-percent interest through Jan. 31, 2020 for federal student debt under a recently released statement from the U.S. Department of Education. The announcement extends for a second time federal debt relief for borrowers and counts the forbearance as payments towards the minimum requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The PSLF program allows employees of governments and charitable nonprofits with certain federal loans to earn forgiveness after making 120 qualifying payments while working in public service, reducing their financial burdens. The Coalition to Preserve PSLF sent a letter asking the next administration to remove "barriers that prevent many public servants from obtaining student loan forgiveness under PSLF” by simplifying and making the process more transparent, providing more oversight, and raising the profile of PSLF to encourage participation.
Using the CARES Act Giving Incentives
One Thing’s Certain as 2020 Comes to an End
We don’t know whether politicians in Washington will agree to economic relief and stimulus soon enough to make a difference. But what we do know is that everyone who donates to the work of charitable nonprofits in the coming days to help make a difference in their communities can qualify for certain tax incentives written into the CARES Act. Between now and New Year’s Day,
- Everyone can deduct the first $300 they donate, even if they take the standard deduction.
- Those who do itemize deductions can give more this year – up to 100% of their adjusted gross income.
Both of these tax incentives are unique to this year and expire on December 31, 2020. Please support the missions and the work of the charitable organizations that you care about.
State Surveys Show Nonprofit Closures, Lost Revenues
Charitable nonprofits have seen demand for their services skyrocket as their costs of operations increase and revenues plummet, according to survey results from across the country. Research conducted in at least 35 states show dire conditions and the need for significant financial support from federal and state governments. This week the Florida Nonprofit Alliance released its latest report, finding that current and future funding remains the top concern with 64 percent of nonprofit organizations reporting they are “somewhat” or “very concerned” with loss of revenue and 59 percent saying they are “somewhat” or “very concerned” for future funding in 2021 and beyond. Seventy-one percent of nonprofits responded that they have had a decrease in unrestricted revenue in 2020, and more than one in four nonprofits (29%) have no reserves to tap. In a separate statewide survey conducted in Texas, the majority of participating nonprofits reported a loss of individual donations and fee-for-service earnings, while 43 percent reported dealing with increased demand for services.
The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands reported the results of a pulse poll of 248 nonprofits in Iowa and Nebraska, finding the nonprofits collectively anticipated losing $54 million dollars in revenue, up from $42 million in April. The Montana Nonprofit Association reported in September that one in four nonprofits in the state had experienced significant new expenses as a result of COVID-19, and half of the organizations reported significant reductions in revenue. In a follow-up survey released last week, the Montana state association found that these trends continued into the fall, with only food banks reporting increased donations, though not enough to keep pace with escalating demands. Nearly a third (29 percent) of South Carolina nonprofits responding to a statewide survey indicated they had only three months of cash on-hand, and five percent said they were already out of funds.
Governments Ask for Return of Unemployment Payments
State unemployment offices are discovering they overpaid millions of dollars in unemployment benefits earlier this year caused in part by chronic understaffing and use of antiquated software. In an effort to quickly push money out the door to unemployed people, state governments sent hundreds of millions of dollars in overpayments to individuals claiming benefits, many of whom were not eligible or engaging in outright fraud. States are now looking to recoup those payments as required by federal law. Overpayment notices have been mailed to some recipients in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas asserting they had incorrectly reported wages, provided false information regarding job separation, or were unqualified for benefits. Some states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, have waived repayment of state unemployment benefits made in error but are requiring returns of the overpayments because of the federal requirement. U.S. Rep. Herrera Beutler introduced the Relief for Working Families Act (H.R. 8812) in Congress to extend waivers for overpayments for some workers to avoid the federal mandatory repayments. Nonprofits need to be vigilant; many have seen claims paid to individuals falsely claiming to have worked for their organizations and potentially subjecting the nonprofits to adverse experience ratings or increased bills from the state.
State Legislators, Advocates Consider Safe Sessions
Lawmakers are considering how to convene during the pandemic after spending the last nine months cancelling, delaying, adjourning, and reconvening sessions. Some states have even flouted public health protocols and rules, resulting in outbreaks of COVID-19 cases and forced closures of statehouses. Most legislatures are expected to convene their sessions in January, raising the question of how to meet safely and provide public access to the legislative process. Many are opting for a hybrid model of virtual and in person meetings; at least 25 legislatures have adopted rules or passed legislation to permit remote participation since the pandemic. Earlier this month, elected officials in Maine and New Hampshire convened outside of their statehouses to take their oaths of office and elect leaders. The Virginia House of Delegates announced that its session will be completely virtual next year. Similarly, all committee meetings in Washington State will be held remotely. Going the other way, the Wyoming Legislature will conduct all of its work in person.
Impact on Nonprofit Advocacy: Nonprofit advocates are working to ensure that state legislatures provide proper access and apply appropriate transparency guidelines to enable the public and nonprofits to fully participate in all legislative proceedings. Maryland Nonprofits provided stakeholder input to the Maryland Senate for changes that will allow for video streaming, virtual testimony, and online constituent meetings. A nonprofit coalition in Nebraska is encouraging legislative leaders and staff to “adopt updated committee hearing processes to ensure safety and accessibility to public hearings.” Specifically, the coalition calls for the ability to submit online testimony similar to the procedures adopted in Hawai`i and Maine.
Congress has very little time to enact much-needed COVID relief before millions suffer immediate harm. Nonprofits have even less time to convince Senators and Representatives that enacting nonprofit policy priorities is in the best interest of the American People. That’s why nonprofit advocates have innovated once again and embraced social media to present real-time advocacy.
The current campaigned has been nicknamed #Relief4Charities Super Selfie Campaign because it utilizes two approaches – combining the advocacy hashtag nonprofits have been using since March with short videos (“super selfies”) in which individuals make personal appeals to their elected federal officials.
The campaign kicked off on Friday, December 11 with a message on Twitter by Danielle Clore of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network speaking directly to Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). She identifies heroic actions and struggles of nonprofits throughout the pandemic and briefly lists the nonprofit policy priorities: “We need a new round of PPP loans for charitable nonprofits of all sizes. We need relief from huge unemployment bills. We need the above-the-line deduction to be expanded and extended into 2021.” Clore then concludes, “For our Commonwealth’s nonprofits to be able to keep serving our communities at this time of unprecedented need, we need a COVID relief package that includes the #Relief4Charities priorities. Today.”
Jennifer Hutchins of the Maine Association of Nonprofits quickly got into the action, posting a video thanking Senator Collins (R-ME) for leading the bipartisan group of Senators to draft meaningful legislation. She emphasizes, “That relief cannot come fast enough. Nonprofits on the frontlines are facing higher demand for our services, higher costs for serving our fellow Mainers, and much lower revenues to pay for the vital services we provide.”
Check out these masterpieces from the state associations of nonprofits in Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
All nonprofits can post their “super selfie” on Twitter with a simple message like this one – tagging your Senators and Representatives:
#Nonprofits urgently need relief to continue serving our communities at a time of unprecedented need. Break the logjam and pass COVID relief, including #Relief4Charities, today! https://bit.ly/3erPrjv
Read more examples of Advocacy in Action,
a regular feature of Nonprofit Advocacy Matters.