OHIO | KEVIN WILLIAMS: Two different surveys show that Ohio’s charities and nonprofits

Jobless workers demonstrate in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Kevin Williams 

Ohio Capital Journal

Historically, nonprofit organizations have been important in Ohio — offering important resources and assistance to Ohioans where people need it. But, COVID-19 has created a huge problem; donations and fundraising are down, stressing organizations and programs that provide assistance to those in need. These are essential services, like rental assistance, addiction services, eldercare, and childcare. Many of these programs are in danger of falling apart when Ohioans need them the most.

Two different Ohio surveys showed that nearly all nonprofits are facing hardship.

From a survey published on May 4, Philanthropy Ohio in conjunction with the Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, found that of the more than 7,000 public charities and nonprofits surveyed, 80% were concerned about the disruption of services to users, 77% were concerned about a loss of income due to COVID-19, and 47% were concerned of potential elevated demand for their services due to the pandemic.

The survey also found that 55% were concerned that they would have to shut down indefinitely.

Nearly a third of the nonprofits surveyed work in human services — organizations that help with things ranging from housing, to substance abuse. Education, arts, and health care nonprofits also made up large percentages surveyed.

In July, the United Way of Central Ohio published findings from a survey unrelated to the Attorney General and Philanthropy Ohio’s. In their survey of 76 human services and health nonprofits they contacted, they found that 70% of them have altered their service due to COVID-19 while 15% have suspended operations entirely.

Around 92% of the nonprofits surveyed by the United Way had said that they had lost revenue since March. Although some nonprofits were able to get federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to stay operating, some are still waiting or did not qualify. The United Way also found that of the nonprofits that did receive the loans, almost half of the organizations surveyed expected to spend the loans by the end of September 2020.

Similar to the Attorney General’s study, the United Way found that organizations at risk were forced to suspend programs that Ohioans need — addiction services, rent assistance, financial literacy, and more.

Two completely independent surveys have returned similar results. Nonprofits are struggling, and that is bad for thousands of Ohioans that need the services they provide. Services like food banks, addiction treatment and prevention, support for those facing homelessness, and many programs designed to assist and enrich both the elderly and the young, are all at risk of disappearing, especially in rural areas where funding is limited, the nonprofits are smaller, and unemployment has remained high.

The effects of the lack of funding are all-encompassing, too. In the Attorney General’s report, the concerns range from canceling travel to protect employees from COVID-19, to serious damage being done to the communities because of an inability to provide services — for example, a person relapsing into drug use, because an addiction service program had been suspended or closed. Or another possible example would be a tenant on the brink of eviction, not being able to get rent assistance, and becoming homeless.

“The nonprofit sector provides incredibly important services in many ways to so many in our community who would otherwise be completely without resources — from food banks to homelessness prevention, job training. The sector is trying to respond to increasing desperation in communities while also being increasingly stressed itself. The needs on both sides just keep growing,” said Hannah Halbert of Policy Matters Ohio.

Unemployment in Ohio, although down from the astronomical 17% in April, is still more than double the rate of February.

Unemployment also hit lower-wage earners harder; leisure and hospitality jobs were hit the hardest from job losses in April, and although some have returned to work, many have found that they’re not making the same income, and are dependent on nonprofits, charities, and others to help close the gap. 

“The public sector, primarily the federal government, but state and local as well, must step up. The federal government cannot discharge its duty to our communities. The nonprofit sector and philanthropy cannot meet these challenges. It’s just not big enough or well-resourced enough to meet all the compounding needs of people in this crisis. Both matter and are important, but investment and policy solutions must come from Congressional action. We needed a new round of stimulus months ago. Inaction is setting us up to have a much deeper, prolonged recession. Lack of urgency in the US Senate is turning a health crisis, into a jobs crisis, into a housing crisis, into a hunger crisis.” said Halbert. 

Clearly, something has to be done to help struggling Ohioans.

Kevin Williams is a freelance writer, focused on structural inequality. He is also a northeast Ohio native, and has graduated from The Ohio State University. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.

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