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Government Shutdowns and Nonprofit Funding

“O, woe is me, to have seen what I have seen, see what I see!” William Shakespeare.

The other day I was working on a federal grant through the Department of Justice when a question arose that could be easily answered by the contact person listed on the NOFA. As I picked up the phone it hit me: we are three weeks into a partial government shutdown. With more than 800,000 federal employees affected (the Department of Justice included), I wasn’t sure if the person I needed was one of them. I have gotten in the habit of picking up the phone that I didn’t register the very real possibility that no one would answer.

Frankly, I am not sure what the protocol is, especially as this shutdown is the longest in the history of our country. Economists are already preparing for a long-term negative impact, and nonprofits are right at the forefront.

For the nation’s 1.5 million nonprofits, their existence and the lives of the people they serve are on the line. Already there are countless articles about how nonprofits are beginning to struggle and implement plans to continue services to our most vulnerable populations. Or at least cushion the impact.

As an example, 40 million people currently receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits. The Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition supplement program has already been cut off, so many families are relying on state supplemental programs (if available) and SNAP. But the Department of Agriculture has reported that this program, without funding, will end in February. The next option for hungry families will be to turn to their local nonprofit organizations. But what happens if the food bank runs out of funding too?

Even if your organization does not directly receive government funding, your community may turn to you to fill the gaps. There are both lateral and trickle-down impacts that will affect every nonprofit organization. It wasn’t until I had my phone in hand that I fully realized the potential negative impact.

You see, the nonprofit world is already anticipating historic donor losses in 2019. As families prepare their tax returns this winter, they will begin to realize that their donations last year will not be itemized, thanks to the new tax laws. The nonprofit world is already anticipating a $13 billion reduction in personal charitable giving, BEFORE the government shutdown. So, while nonprofits might normally hope that individuals would help fill the gaps in funding, that door is also closing.

Even if you were awarded a federal grant in 2018, it has been announced that funds will stop being issued if the shutdown extends past January 18th (this Friday). In the meantime, what nonprofits can do is appeal to their donor bases and keep applying to federal grants with the hope that they will be awarded...sometime.

To recap: Programs that serve our most vulnerable citizens are shut down. The promised funding that allows nonprofits to serve needs is on pause. Individual donations are drying up. Families are living without paychecks. Certainly, we are living through a desperate situation. Fortunately, the nonprofit world has a indefatigable supply of hope. We can’t afford to throw our hands in the air and give into despair. My advice: Keep going and do your best. And hope.

“The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” William Shakespeare



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