Malcolmxl5, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

October 24, 2020; Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California)

In one of the ironies of how the federal government works, even as states and localities suffer tremendous shortfalls, many communities this month have announced new programs to support nonprofits.

Why? Well, it so happens that the CARES Act requires that the federal money received be spent no later than December 31st. Tara Todd of WVIR of Staunton, Virginia, notes that “CARES money can only be used to help with things that are a direct result of the pandemic.” But since the pandemic has affected just about everything, this is not much of a barrier.

Where is the money going? It depends heavily on the community.

In Staunton, Virginia, the city has allocated $300,000 to support area nonprofits, including the local American Shakespeare Center. In South Carolina, the state’s “Nonprofit Relief Grant Program will reimburse qualified recipients from $2,500 to $50,000,” according to local television station WLTX.

In Connecticut, a state that has hardly stood out for its support of nonprofits, Governor Ned Lamont (D) has announced that $9 million will be allocated to state nonprofit arts organizations. According to reporter Rich Kirby for the local site, “Qualifying organizations will receive a base grant of $5,000. For organizations that have raised funds between March 10 and November 1, 2020, the program will offer a supplemental match of 50 percent of contributed income during that period. The maximum award for any organization is $750,000.”

To qualify, notes the Hartford Courant, arts organizations must demonstrate at least a 20 percent decline in revenue, which, given the dependence of many arts organization on earned income from ticket sales to in-person events, is surely not very hard to do.

In San Bernardino County, California (east of Los Angeles), the county’s board of supervisors voted to allocate $5 million to what is being called the San Bernardino County Nonprofit Assistance Fund. Individual nonprofits can apply for up to $20,000 in support.

According to reporter Rebecca O’Connor of the Press-Enterprise, the local community foundation, the Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF), is managing the fund in partnership with the Inland Empire Funders Alliance. “Grant awards will be dispersed directly by San Bernardino County to IECF-approved nonprofits,” O’Connor adds.

Given the federal spending deadline, many of these programs have short cutoff dates. Applications for the South Carolina program, for example, are due November 1st and applications for the Connecticut program are due election day, November 3rd. The San Bernardino County program has a comparatively generous application deadline of November 16th.

There are a couple of things to note. First, of course, it is worth recognizing that this is very much a situation of trying to collect those last few drops of CARES Act dollars before the spigot runs dry. The amount of money is hardly adequate to the need—the $20,000 maximum of the San Bernardino County program communicates that fact rather starkly. Even the Connecticut effort sounds more impressive than it is. According to the Hartford Courant, the state’s arts, cultural and tourism sector is a $9-billion sector—$9 million is 0.1 percent of that amount.

The broader challenge, of course, is the interruption in federal coronavirus relief spending overall. Back in May, the US House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, which would’ve assured a continuation of funding, but the US Senate never voted on the measure. Now, at a minimum, a gap in funding is all but certain to occur.

And this situation has meant that not all local governments are disbursing grants to nonprofits. In New York state, for example, the government is holding onto the money for itself, rather than assist nonprofits. This is true even though many of New York’s nonprofits are hurting as much as those in other states. For instance, Nick Reisman of Spectrum News notes that 700 childcare providers have closed statewide for good since April.

When pressed by nonprofits for support, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) responded, “The State has a $14.5 billion revenue shortfall this year alone” and “will spend every dollar on eligible costs related to the pandemic response, including personal protective equipment, the MTA, testing statewide, and contact tracing.” Cuomo added that the nonprofits’ “time would be better spent joining the fight for Federal aid.”—Steve Dubb