Two different surveys show that Ohio’s charities and nonprofits are in crisis

September 14, 2020 12:20 am

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

Nonprofit organizations are essential in Ohio — offering essential resources and assistance to Ohioans in need. However, COVID-19 has created a considerable problem; donations and fundraising are down, volunteer work is limited in the age of social distancing.

Organizations are now stressed, and essential programming is now vulnerable to termination. These programs are much-needed for Ohioans: rental assistance, addiction services, eldercare, childcare, and more. Because of COVID-19’s impact, many important programs are in danger of falling apart when Ohioans need them the most.

Several organizations have sent out surveys to measure the effect COVID-19 has had on Ohio nonprofits and charities. 

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

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

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

Nearly one-third of the nonprofits surveyed were human services — organizations that help with things anywhere 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 also released a survey, completely unrelated to the attorney general. They surveyed 76 human services and health nonprofits in the central Ohio area and found that 70% of them have altered their service due to COVID-19. (Correction: An earlier version of this article stated 15% had suspended operations entirely. That was not accurate. The United Way survey showed 15% had suspended some programs but had other programs still operating. None had suspended all programs 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, others 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, nonprofits operating budgets 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 fears of exposure of staff to 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 a program they had been using for support had been suspended or closed. Or, maybe 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.

Ohio is still facing massive job losses since February, and unemployment, although down from the astronomical 17% in April, is still more than double the rate of February.

Unemployment has also hit lower-wage earners harder; leisure and hospitality jobs were hit the hardest from job losses in April. 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 in their living expenses.

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.

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Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

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.