Congress last week passed and President Trump signed into the law the largest economic stimulus bill in American history. A total of $2.2 trillion is slated to go to hospitals, businesses, unemployed workers, and most American families to help them deal with the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But if the 2008 economic stimulus is any indicator, it could be weeks or months before Americans receive a financial reprieve. Workers who have lost their jobs will still have to figure out how they will pay their rent and mortgages, feed their families, and gas up their vehicles until federal aid gets to them and afterward. Small businesses may shutter before they are able to access the forthcoming assistance.
Fortunately, Americans are stepping up to support one another. Americans voluntarily give because of a can-do spirit that enlivens members of society. Unlike our overseas counterparts who wait for a centralized government to direct responses, Americans roll up their sleeves and tackle problems on their own.
Their generosity will help mitigate the economic fallout for many families. We’re already seeing the great impact these efforts are having.
There are countless stories of sacrifice, selflessness and creativity channeled toward ensuring that frontline medical staff have the supplies they need to keep working, that seniors and children have meals to eat, and that isolation does not break the human spirit.
Individuals from NBA players to actors have stepped forward to donate part of their fortunes to relief efforts. So have regular Americans who aren’t wealthy, purchasing groceries for elderly neighbors or supporting GoFundMe campaigns. Even children are helping where they can, such as a first-grader who used $600 of his savings to make dozens of care packages for seniors.
Members of the philanthropic community have also been quick to marshal resources and magnify individual giving. Their efforts highlight the critical role that philanthropy plays in society.
Over 100 COVID-19 relief funds in 49 states and the District of Columbia have been established by partnerships between community foundations, individual donors, private foundations, local governments and nonprofit organizations to provide direct services to those in need.
By one estimate more than $211 million has been mobilized through such philanthropic partnerships across the country.
New York state is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with over 92,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,400 deaths.
A group of over a dozen major foundations including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The New York Community Trust, and Wells Fargo Foundation have created a $75 million relief fund.
The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund will provide grants and interest-free loans to New York City-based nonprofits to help them respond to coronavirus-related needs and losses they incur, and to help them continue their normal work.
In Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Hillman Family Foundations, and the Heinz Endowments together have pledged $10 million for an emergency fund that the public can also donate to. It will be used to support food, health care, and other needs.
The Lilly Endowment teamed up with other foundations and United Way of Central Indiana to establish a $16.5 million economic relief fund for Indiana nonprofits.
In San Antonio, the H.E. Butt Foundation and Harvey E. Najim and the Najim Charitable Foundation worked with the San Antonio Area Foundation, the United Way of San Antonio and the city of San Antonio to raise $2.7 million for a relief fund to help area residents.
These are massive sums of money marshaled in a matter of weeks with the promise of more to come. The speed at which these funds and commitments have been made is a reminder that philanthropy is more agile, responsive and nimble than government can ever be.
The grants that philanthropic organizations award face less red tape and can quickly be delivered to front-line nonprofits that can distribute food, basic supplies, or cash aid to those who need it.
Our civil society has fine-tuned an efficient system that offers lifelines for many Americans on a daily basis, but especially during natural disasters and times of crisis. Philanthropic giving in response to the coronavirus is well on pace to surpass past disaster giving.
While policymakers continue to debate partisan differences in economic plans and our massive government figures out how to implement the stimulus package, philanthropic organizations and individuals are coming together quickly to weather the storm of COVID-19 and bring hope to those facing its hardships.
Patrice Lee Onwuka (@PatricePinkFile) is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum and a senior fellow with the Alliance for Charitable Excellence.