Legislation reintroduced in Congress by Democrats would provide $50 billion in aid to nonprofits. The concept of the Work Opportunities and Resources to Keep Nonprofit Organizations Well (WORK NOW) Act (S. 740) is to help charities meet increasing demands in their communities created by the coronavirus pandemic while preserving and creating jobs in the sector.
Most of the funding would cover wages and benefits for existing or new employees with salaries of up to $50,000. Nonprofits would be able to use some of the funding to pay expenses and program costs. Intermediary organizations that provide expertise to nonprofits would get grants of up to $100 million.
Intermediaries typically would be national organizations with local operations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, United Way or Habitat for Humanity. The national organization would secure the grant and distribute to some or all of its chapters and local offices to perform specific services authorized in the legislation, according to David Thompson, vice president of public policy at the National Council of Nonprofits.
The WORK NOW Act is a “front-burner issue” as the Biden Administration and Congress get to work on their next legislative priority, an infrastructure package, Thompson said. “It is a jobs bill – the grant money would go to bringing back some of the million jobs lost during the pandemic and hiring unemployed people to address community needs. That purpose and result earn it a place on the list of reasonable provisions,” he said.
The Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has been tracking nonprofit job losses since the start of the pandemic, based on estimates reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). CCSS estimates the nonprofit sector was down as much as 1.6 million jobs in the three months after the pandemic was declared. Nonprofits have regained some of those losses but a year later are still down by almost 1 million jobs overall.
“The WORK NOW Act would be transformative for nonprofits and their ability to respond to the economic fallout from the pandemic,” Steve Taylor, vice president of public policy at United Way Worldwide (UWW), said. “There are segments of our population for whom the economic impact is so severe they may never recover,” he said, adding that the bill would “accelerate the recovery, and lead to a more equitable recovery, for millions of Americans.”
The legislation was reintroduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), along with Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Brain Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Also co-sponsoring the bill are Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.) Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).
The measure was introduced March 11 and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Companion legislation is being led in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), a member of the key Ways and Means Committee, along with co-sponsors Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Brad Schnedier (D-Ill.).
That only Democrats have so far sponsored the bill suggests at least two options, according to Thompson. One is that it’s primed and ready if Democrats “go it alone” through the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a majority 51 votes in the Senate as opposed to 60 votes. A second option is that the measure could be amended to address Republican priorities and concerns. Those priorities could include targeting specific subsectors — for example, land conservation and the arts enjoy wide, bipartisan support — or adjusting the grants process or total costs, he said.
“No one is using the term ‘shovel-ready projects’ anymore, but just about every charitable organization in every community could advance its mission and expand its impact if it had the resources to hire the staff to truly get the work done,” Thompson said. “I’d say that reality is the underlying basis of the WORK NOW Act – to get people in jobs quickly and meaningfully, tap the charitable nonprofit community to get things done efficiently and effectively,” he said.
Thompson described the legislation as “probably the most finely honed bill for the problems that the infrastructure bill is seeking to address” and its sponsors “have been diligent in considering the immediate and ongoing needs of charitable nonprofits as they struggle to provide COVID relief and recovery.”