It’s no surprise that nonprofits play a critical role supporting Minnesotans. What may be a surprise is that with hundreds of billions of dollars distributed to states, local governments and businesses over the past two years, nonprofits have been largely left out of state and federal relief programs designed to support organizations providing jobs and services throughout the pandemic.
Businesses have been grateful for bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress and Minnesota state government for programs such as COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Minnesota Main Street Grant program, and industry specific programs like Save Our Stages and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. These have been vital to keeping businesses open, and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber strongly advocated for their value and need.
For many small businesses in our region, those funds provided them with the breathing room necessary to keep their doors open and keep their employees working during difficult circumstances over the past two years.
While many industries and sectors had access to one or more programs with dollars specific to meet their needs, the nonprofit sector has had no designated relief dollars for recovery. At the same time, the data from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits show that 44% of nonprofits are still seeing an increase in demand for services, and 47% of nonprofits said they could only operate for 12 months or less before exhibiting financial distress. This is not sustainable.
Over the past two years many nonprofits faced exploding demand, a decimated volunteer force, and had to made quick (and often expensive) operational and safety changes during the pandemic. It’s time to recognize the extraordinarily vital role these partners have played above and beyond the state funds nonprofits receive to provide current services.
To continue delivering the support our communities need and to accelerate a more equitable recovery, Minnesota must invest in our nonprofits. That’s why the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, with key partners, has proposed the creation of a Nonprofit Relief Fund, leveraging $200 million in federal relief dollars for nonprofits statewide.
Grants would range between $50,000‐$150,000 and prioritize small, rural, human services and culturally-specific nonprofits. Half of the funds would be for organizations in the metro area, and the other half reserved for Greater Minnesota nonprofits.
Nonprofits serve as economic multipliers by providing services, like after-school programs, elder care, and job training, which allow others to find employment and work outside the home. Nonprofits also stimulate economic activity – museums, cultural centers and similar nonprofits attract visitors who spend money at other nearby business.
With nonprofits employing 14% of Minnesota’s workforce and providing critical services like homeless shelters, food shelves, mental health supports and more, it is clear our region benefits from their great work. Utilizing a portion of the federal funds that have come to Minnesota to support our nonprofit partners is a smart investment that will benefit us all. On behalf of our region’s business community, I encourage the legislature to step up to support our critical nonprofits.
Jonathan Weinhagen is president & CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, the largest local chamber in Minnesota, and can be found on Twitter at @jweinhagen and @MplsChamber.