[UPDATE: August 30, 2020]
Following enactment of four large COVID-19 relief packages in March and April 2020, the House drafted and passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act [H.R. 6800] on May 15, 2020. It “responds to the COVID-19 … outbreak and its impact on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.”
Since then, Senate Leader McConnell has blocked the measure from the floor, negotiations have collapsed, and Congress has been in recess. With the exception of the enactment earlier in the summer of two small standalone bills giving temporary, narrow relief, there has been no new federal legislation and desperately needed financial aid at all.
This failure of assistance includes four specific matters that the charitable community has identified as critical to ensuring that the nation’s nonprofits “… can continue to provide frontline services to those in need” and help their “communities recover.”
State and local governments struggle to meet the crushing financial burden caused by the pandemic as well as cope with demands and desires of the public to “get back to normal” while COVID-19 continues to flare up dangerously in many communities.
The federal administrative response – including from health and safety agencies – has been erratic, inconsistent, insufficient, and hobbled by unprecedented political pressures to encourage “reopenings” of activities and institutions.
State and municipal agencies – many also subject to partisan meddling – are left holding the bag to cope with the continuing urgent health and financial needs of their constituents.
[UPDATE: June 30, 2020]
The three and a half months or so of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a magnifying glass on the capabilities of our national government as well as state and local governments around the nation to carry out the usual functions as well as respond quickly and efficiently to a crisis of unprecedented proportions. During this period, the concept of federalism has been put under a microscope as well.
It’s an open secret that the federal level has performed poorly while many – though not all – states, counties, and local governments have risen to the occasion. but even at this sub-federal level, there has been some confusion and tension between the state governors and local authorities. This is understandable, perhaps, given the cataclysmic course of the pandemic, including the disappointing resurgences of the disease even in states like California that had led in aggressive and early lock-down measures.
All aspects of our economy – including the large and important nonprofit sector – have been dependent on the federal government for quick action to authorize early and fairly generous aid packages, the U.S. Congress has regressed into a partisan stalemate over the amount and timing of additional assistance. In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, but it has stalled in the Senate.
[UPDATE: May 3, 2020]
In April, a fourth Congressional bill was passed and signed into law to add to the pot of money available to help the nation through COVID-19, which was huge but not nearly enough to cover the enormous need. Legislators are already at work on a fifth bill. The nonprofit community along with sympathetic federal legislators are trying to achieve a dedicated track of funding for our sector.
State governments are also stepping up in a big way, including through regional coalitions to coordinate strategy and achieve greater pooled purchasing power.
[April 1, 2020]
Now, more than at any time in many decades, the government – at all levels – will play a key role in our lives. There are, and will continue to be, different laws and rules as well as conflicting messages. The system of federalism – which allocates authority and power between the federal government and the states – will be tested as never before.
Yet at the same time that the nonprofit sector (along with all other elements in our society) is dealing with restrictions, we will need the government’s financial largesse. The CARES Act, enacted on March 26, 2020, is the largest-ever infusion of money into the economy in United States history. But this $2 trillion stimulus law is “not nearly enough,” and “private giving can’t possibly make up for the huge increases in demand [for nonprofit services] expected.”