In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit organizations across Maine are playing a vital role in helping our most vulnerable neighbors access critical resources.

Meals on Wheels, which feeds more than 400 homebound adults in Kennebec Valley alone, is working overtime to deliver meals and recruit new volunteer drivers from a low-risk age group. The Bridging the Gap program has put all its resources into distributing essential personal care items like soap and diapers. And the Augusta Food Bank shifted its schedule to provide weekend meals to dozens of youth whose schools have temporarily closed. Nonprofits like these are a safety net for thousands of central Maine people struggling to make ends meet.

But funding for nonprofits to continue to meet basic human needs is now in jeopardy. Just when these organizations are being tapped to step up in new ways to serve the community, they find themselves low on financial resources. Private individual and corporate donations are likely to decrease, as they did following the 2008 recession, as businesses are shuttered and people find themselves out of work. Families are facing financial uncertainty, and businesses — often major supporters of nonprofits under normal circumstances — are trying to cope and care for their employees as best they can.

In the current climate, the nonprofit sector seeks a reliable and dedicated source of funding to continue serving the people most in need.

Last week, Congress passed a coronavirus relief bill that expanded unemployment insurance, ensured paid sick leave for hourly workers, and increased funding for nutrition programs. In an entrepreneurial state like Maine, looking out for our small business owners and hourly employees is absolutely critical. Likewise, federal food security programs benefit from having more money to assist laid-off workers.

While the success of this stimulus bill may be encouraging, it is simply not enough. Nonprofits are also on the frontlines of this crisis, providing access to food, medical services and child care. Without substantial financial support from Congress, America’s nonprofit sector and the people it aids face a dangerous decline in mission-based services — just when our community relies on these services more than ever.

Over the past few days, United Way Worldwide has collaborated with nearly 200 national charities to design an economic relief proposal for the nonprofit sector. We are pleading with Maine’s congressional delegation and the entire Congress to support this $60 billion bill for charitable organizations, as part of the trillion-dollar relief package that Congress is preparing. This funding would help national and local nonprofits stabilize operations and expand service delivery to meet rising demands. Specifically including charitable organizations in this proposal is the quickest way to funnel emergency funding to the nonprofits at the forefront of this outbreak.

Beyond meeting the immediate needs of nonprofits, the federal government also has a responsibility to support the charitable sector during the economy’s subsequent recovery. When a 2017 law change drastically reduced tax incentives for charitable giving, donations to nonprofits across the country decreased by 3.4%. If Congress worked to expand charitable giving incentives to all American taxpayers, regardless of the amount they give, it would help revive private citizen investment in community organizations in the aftermath of COVID-19. The introduction of this universal deduction would re-incentivize donors and strengthen our communities.

To ensure the short- and long-term vitality of nonprofit organizations — the first responders in a crisis — Mainers must take action. Please contact our representatives and urge them to support $60 billion for charitable relief in the third phase of the coronavirus stimulus package. And when this crisis is behind us, we must advocate to support the recovery of these crucial community organizations through reasonable tax reforms.

Right now, feelings of compassion and camaraderie are positively palpable among the people of Kennebec Valley. Folks are donating extra supplies, neighbors are helping neighbors, and nonprofits are doing the best they can to play their part. Let’s hope that Congress does its part to support nonprofits and the thousands of people they serve across Maine.

Courtney Yeager is executive director of United Way of Kennebec Valley.

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