Opinion: Ga.'s nonprofits need help to serve

Helping Mamas, a nonprofit that provides baby supplies to moms in need, received funding from the United Way, community foundations and corporate donations during the pandemic. Employee Karissa Jackson pulls items to fill a request at their Norcross warehouse. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Philanthropy has stepped up during the pandemic, but government support is needed too, given economic pressures on many people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our entire society, but the poor and the elderly are among those sectors that have been hit the hardest. United Way and our community partners have been among the first responders in meeting local needs from the beginning of the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 outstrips philanthropic resources and many nonprofits delivering critical services are themselves at the brink of closure.

Present circumstances require all-hands-on-deck in deploying all available resources if we are going to weather this storm and collectively meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations.

In mid-March, United Way of Greater Atlanta teamed up with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to launch the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. Our mission was to provide immediate support to those most vulnerable to the economic and health-related issues caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

We were fortunate enough to have support from strong corporate sponsors, a talented Atlanta artist and thousands of other greater Atlanta residents.

In total, we raised more than $25 million for the Fund and used those resources to support more than 320 nonprofits working on the front lines in the Greater Atlanta region.

But it hasn’t been business as usual for our nonprofit partners. Far from it.

Milton J. Little Jr.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Most of the agencies we funded recognized the need to adjust their service-delivery structure to keep up with the ever-changing challenges of COVID-19.

After all, food access has been interrupted for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families, most detrimentally so for seniors, students and the homeless population. The immediate loss of income for thousands of individuals and families has also depleted or eliminated any savings for emergency needs, especially for hourly, service industry and gig workers.

Childcare centers, which were critical to enabling healthcare professionals and first responders to do their jobs early in the pandemic, continue to struggle to not permanently close. Hundreds of thousands of students in our region did not have access to the technology needed to support the switch to online learning.

Charitable clinics continue to report increasing numbers of patients due to people losing healthcare as a result of unexpected unemployment. Elevated mental health conditions and substance abuse concerns threaten the well-being of many members of our community.

George McCanless

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

As a result of these complicated, compounding crises, most nonprofits we funded this year reported serving their normal client base, while simultaneously expanding the type of services they offered to ensure that clients had access to food, educational supports, internet connectivity, health resources and emergency financial assistance funds.

A tall order by any account.

In the six months that have transpired since the launch of our fund, our collective of nonprofits has been able to serve nearly 1.5 million people.

And that is just in the greater Atlanta region.

There are 33 United Way chapters across the state of Georgia, facilitating similarly successful COVID-19 relief efforts throughout their respective regions.

Our ability to effectively cater responses that match the unique needs of each community we serve is made possible through our trusted 2-1-1 information and referral service – an invaluable resource that covers over 70 percent of Georgia’s population and helps us track, understand and quickly address the greatest concerns of our residents.

It has been remarkable to watch our state’s nonprofits rise to the occasion, identifying cross-sector solutions to help Georgia residents hang on during these trying times.

But these innovations come at a price.

Many organizations, our own included, are facing a dual set of challenges: a loss of revenue and increased costs directly related to these COVID-19 response efforts.

We have carried on, recognizing the great need of our communities, but we are fearful that the resiliency of our nonprofit community is reaching its limits and Georgia still needs help.

Federal Unemployment Benefits ($600 per week) have concluded, even though the unemployment rate remains at 7.6 percent (up from 3.4 percent a year ago). Georgia has offered President Trump’s additional $300 per week (paid for out of FEMA funds), but the temporary six-week benefit will only provide qualifying Georgians with $1,800 before expiring.

Loss of employment and decreased wages is resulting in high rates of food insecurity. Those who can go back to work are faced with limited childcare options as 31 percent of licensed childcare facilities across the state remain closed.

While the CDC just announced a moratorium on evictions through the end of the year for those renters who received an Economic Impact Payment or stimulus check via the CARES Act, the moratorium does not absolve renters of paying their rent. That money is still due to landlords, and if no funds are provided to cover rental costs, the moratorium will simply create a deeper financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.

Already this past month, 26.5 percent of adults in the greater Atlanta region missed their last rent or mortgage payment and expressed slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time.

The reality is, we are far from out of the woods. The needs of our community are great, and the resources of our nonprofit community are quickly fading.

We must secure further financial support from our government. Philanthropic support alone cannot address the need that the pandemic has caused.

If you are able, we ask you to contribute to our ongoing relief efforts by donating to United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Impact Fund. Or, if you are outside of the Greater Atlanta region, consider donating to the local United Way in your community.

The trials of 2020 have been great, but we believe the strength of our community is greater. Let’s push for the comprehensive relief effort we need, together.

Milton J. Little Jr. is president and CEO, United Way of Greater Atlanta. George McCanless is president of the United Ways of Georgia State Association.