Recommendations for our Leaders: Ways to Support Human Services

Last week, Illinois Partners for Human Service facilitated virtual focus groups on the impact of COVID-19 with our health and human service coalition partners throughout the state. We spoke with 120+ providers in McLean County, Peoria, Southern Illinois, the South, West and North Sides of Chicago, Lake County and DuPage County. Our mission as a statewide coalition is to listen and amplify the experiences of our coalition partners, who are working on the front lines in this crisis. They are resilient, and wholly committed to caring for those who need it most, no matter the circumstance. And they are in urgent need of financial support.

Below are our recommendations based on feedback from our providers. We call on our elected officials to act decisively and immediately at every level. The Human Service sector needs support to care for our communities — the services they provide are needed now more than ever.

At the Federal level:

To stabilize the nonprofit sector, Congress must pass legislation immediately that includes the $60 billion in funding and other policy solutions (such as the payroll tax credit) requested by dozens of national nonprofit organizations. The Senate is debating this as we speak, and as it stands, the bill would prevent many medicaid-funded providers from accessing small business loans, which would hurt organizations in our sector. We are grateful for Senator Tammy Duckworth and Senator Dick Durbin for fighting against this and advocating for human services. Please reach out to them and show your support.

At the State level:

Human Service organizations across the board have expressed that they need accelerated funding to keep their doors open during this public health crisis. We are grateful to Secretary Hou of IDHS for her commitment to ensuring providers can stay open and receive funding. We ask that flexibility is granted wherever possible to reduce administrative burden and ensure organizations can respond quickly to the needs of their communities.

We know there is a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare providers across the state — human service organizations are feeling this too. Providers that run residential facilities, our caregivers for older adults and those with disabilities, and our free and charitable clinics have severely limited PPE, and are serving populations most vulnerable to the virus. As production ramps up for PPE in Illinois, please do not forget that human service providers need access to this too.

For our state legislators, the General Assembly must find a way to convene and make laws during this stay-at-home order. We can’t afford to wait since we don’t know how long this order will be necessary, and we cannot risk not passing the budget on time.

For Donors and Foundations:

We are grateful to foundations and the donor community that are rallying across our state to support human service organizations. Community foundations are creating disaster relief funds, donors are pooling resources to provide financial support for those on the front lines. In this time of uncertainty, we encourage funders to offer flexibility and trust that their grantees, as experts in their field and knowledgeable of community needs, will allocate resources where they are needed most. Below is feedback from our coalition partners on ways the donor and foundation community can best support human service organizations right now:

  1. Consider allowing funds from restricted program grants to be used for general operations to allow organizations to internally reallocate funding based on emerging needs related to this crisis. We recommend extending reporting requirements and reducing application requirements, as organizations may have less personnel and time to manage grants.
  2. Many organizations have had to cancel their fundraising events, some of which provide the majority of their budget for the year. Consider supporting small providers — particularly those who rely on philanthropic contributions to keep their organizations afloat.
  3. Remember Downstate Illinois — human service organizations throughout the state need emergency funding. In our philanthropy report, we found that 39% of grant dollars from Chicago area donors went to the six-county region, 57% to other areas of the United States, and only 2% to downstate Illinois. It is essential to bolster the capacity of community foundations, and target areas that do not have access to as much donor funding.

For our local communities

Many human service employers rely heavily on volunteers to perform core-mission functions, and the stay-at-home order reduced or eliminated their “workforce.” Many volunteers are retired or older adults who are staying home because they are more at risk, and now, more broadly, because of the stay-at-home order.

One consistent theme we heard across the state is the need for volunteers (particularly at food banks and other nonprofits distributing food and supplies). Our organizations everywhere are implementing social distancing measures while still serving their communities — if you are healthy and able, please volunteer. We also know that there is an immense need for blood donations — again, if you are able, consider donating blood.

Community needs during this public health crisis will shift and evolve, and human service organizations will shift and evolve in response. We urge our legislators, state agencies, foundations and donors to keep this in mind, and continue to demonstrate their support for our sector.

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