Throw NYC’s nonprofits a lifeline: The city’s helpers are desperate for PPP funds
By Andrea Salwen Kopel
New York Daily News|
May 04, 2020 | 5:00 AM
Before the coronavirus, I used to love Monday mornings.
Every week, I would stride down W. 72nd St. to begin my day with the National Council of Jewish Women New York in our sturdy old community center building. I’d see the line of people waiting to sign in for our Monday Food Pantry.
Every single week, the same indefatigable volunteers — whose average age is 80 — would position themselves behind their tables and proffer their items. Ezra offering oatmeal and rice, and promising more pasta next week. Sherry enthusiastically offering packets of baby cauliflower or recently, gorgeous strawberries brought by City Harvest. I’d mostly sit upstairs in my sunny office, answering emails, often stopping to say another hello to all the volunteers on my way out for lunch.
Now, I dread Mondays.
Every one of our 20 Food Pantry volunteers has been sent home to shelter in place. Now it’s just two staff members and me, assisted by rotating pairs of younger, able-bodied volunteers. We pre-pack grocery bags and I hand them out at the door. I cannot allow clients inside, not even to use the bathroom. They cannot choose their own foods. We may be giving peanut butter to families with peanut allergies, and milk to people who are lactose intolerant, but it is the best we can do. When clients step forward to take their bags and say thank you, I sometimes have to literally turn my back on them. They don’t all wear masks, and I am afraid for them and for myself.
But we will forge ahead, working to serve our most vulnerable clients as best we can.
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The Trump administration has been cutting funding for social safety net programs like SNAP (food stamps) for years, and New York City was already feeling the strain. People of all economic classes are now losing jobs, meaning increasing needs and decreasing donations. Nonprofits like mine will have to do so much more with less.
Like most nonprofit social services organizations, my staff is still working full-time to deliver our core services without interruption during the crisis. We are still paying them full salary and benefits, and will do so until it’s no longer possible. We applied for relief from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) on the first day. For us, like most small nonprofits, this loan funding — about $138,000 — will be the difference between our possibly being able to continue to operate in a sustainable way into the future, or not. After a nerve-wracking wait, our PPP loan was approved early in the second round, but too many other social service organizations in our city are still waiting. In the first round of loans, New York State fared nearly worst of all.
I am heartened that hundreds of billions more have been added to the program, but I am anxious it won’t be enough. Given that the initial distribution of loans seemed random at best, and perverse at worst, I’d like to see this program converted into an entitlement for all eligible applicants. But if that’s not possible, then New York City’s nonprofit sector should be prioritized for payroll subsidies.
As someone who has worked in New York City’s nonprofit sector for 25 years, I know that we employ NYC’s most passionate, resourceful and persevering people. No sector relies on or values its employees more. We pay a living wage and give generous benefit packages. We are 18% of the state’s private-sector employment. Nonprofits will be the last organizations to lay off workers — even if it means they’ll run themselves into the ground as a result.
My entire staff team of 10 continues to work throughout this crisis, so we can provide a continuous lifeline to New York’s most vulnerable. We will not abandon our clients; we ask that the federal government not abandon us.