Catholic agencies seek stimulus funding to meet expected surge in clients
IMAGE: CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit
By Dennis Sadowski
CLEVELAND (CNS) — Several Catholic charitable agencies are among more than 200 nonprofits urging Congress to include $60 billion in aid to help them meet an expected surge in requests for services from unemployed people.
The coming wave of clients seeking food assistance, housing, health care and clothing is expected as a result of massive layoffs across the U.S. economy and a corresponding dive in financial contributions as the new coronavirus sweeps through communities nationwide.
Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Medical Mission and St. Francis Ministries are among dozens of agencies asking Congress to bolster support for their services.
Debate on a $2 trillion stimulus package continued in the Senate March 23. Democrats have twice blocked passage to a bill since March 22, saying it too strongly favored corporations over health care workers and people who had lost their jobs. Exasperated Republicans contend Democrats are seeking unnecessary provisions at the behest of special interests and organized labor.
Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations at Catholic Charities USA, said the country’s nonprofit sector will need federal assistance if the economy enters a deep recession because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The demands are going to go up," he told Catholic News Service March 23. "State and federal officials are expecting hundreds of thousands of job losses. Those are the people who are going to be showing up at Catholic Charities agencies."
Catholic Charities USA and other agencies involved in providing affordable housing and helping households meet rent payments planned to expand the request for stimulus aid to include support for housing initiatives, Granado said.
In backing the request to Congress, Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said emergency support is necessary for U.S. nonprofits.
"We are actively working with CCUSA to advance those provisions. We are also pushing separately for additional funds for the global response," he said in a March 23 email to CNS.
The letter from the nonprofits spells out a series of steps to help the sector respond to the increased need. Many agencies already are being pressed to respond with food and shelter as tens of thousands of people have begun seeking assistance.
Among the provisions sought by the charitable agencies are expanded tax credits and deductions for taxes nonprofits pay, such as payroll taxes, as well as expanding provisions that assist for-profit businesses to nonprofits for requirements such as unemployment insurance and employee retention.
They also are asking Congress to create greater incentives for people to contribute to charitable agencies by enacting a universal deduction for contributions through the end of 2021.
A third provision the agencies want is to expand a tax credit to any charitable agency, regardless of size, that provides paid family and medical leave.
Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social justice lobbying group Network, said guarantees are needed to ensure that any federal stimulus package precludes executive compensation and buying back stocks.
"Congress needs to hear this loud and clear: Big business bailouts must not be funneled to buy-backs or executive paychecks," Sister Campbell said in a statement released March 20 as Congress prepared to debate the latest stimulus bill. "We’ve seen this movie before, and if Congress doesn’t put restrictions how the bailouts are used, workers and families will not be put first. Main Street needs these bailouts, not C-Suite."
In an earlier letter to House and Senate appropriations committee leaders of both parties, Catholic Charities USA asked that funding for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, called EFSP, be doubled to $250 million in fiscal year 2020 spending as the economy massively slows because of the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
Dominican Sister Donna Markham, CCUSA’s president and CEO, said in a March 17 letter that the request was being made before the financial crisis deepens.
"An increase in funding for EFSP during this time of national crisis will have a long-term impact helping communities and vulnerable people, and our local agencies servicing them, to receive the help they need now and in the long term," she wrote.
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