Nonprofits stepped up during the pandemic; time for state to help them is now | Opinion

A $50 million nonprofit stabilization fund would be a start

Northwest Indian Community Development Center works on connecting members with mental health services through access to traditional healing knowledge, and ceremonies to promote substsance use disorder recovery, suicide prevention and community connections. Photo courtesy of NWICDC.

Some people are bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, but many Minnesotans are still in need of the foundational infrastructure that nonprofits provide. A nonprofit resiliency and recovery fund would ensure these organizations can deliver critical services during the ongoing recovery.

Minnesota’s tribal communities have experienced significant trauma throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Northwest Indian Community Development Center (NWICDC) in Bemidji has witnessed this firsthand as an organization serving more than 2,400 people per year in its 60-mile radius, including the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation and Leech Lake Nation. These communities were already working twice as hard to keep up with Minnesota’s economic and social indicators. As their needs have grown exponentially during the past year and a half, NWICDC has been a go-to resource.

Minnesotans in north Minneapolis are trying to persevere through similar struggles. This community that is 88% Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) is home to the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center (PWCC), which serves over 2,500 people annually — most of whom earn wages below poverty levels. The trauma of COVID-19 has caused individuals and families served by the community center to deal with an increase in mental health issues while also confronting social injustices, upticks in crime, and vaccine hesitancy. 

During the pandemic, PWCC continued providing outreach and support to the children, adults, families and seniors who cannot afford to lose any more ground due to this crisis.

Like other organizations, we at NWICDC and PWCC have maintained regular services while also responding to the ballooning needs brought on by the pandemic. Funding shortfalls and a diminished workforce are making it difficult for us to serve our communities to the full extent needed, disproportionately affecting BIPOC Minnesotans. Organizations like ours have also been tasked with the COVID-19 vaccine outreach, made difficult by the reality of vaccine hesitancy, which affects people of color understandably given the past historical trauma around medical care.

While parts of society continue to quickly bounce back, it will take years to address the compounding damage done to the people who were already struggling before the pandemic. These new, unanticipated needs have been challenging to the operating infrastructure of our organizations, and current relief dollars are unable to accommodate the full costs of what it takes to provide these services. 

Our state needs to step up, and to strengthen the resilience of our residents and their well-being. We need a solid, stable nonprofit infrastructure.

That is why we are calling on Gov. Tim Walz to create a $50 million nonprofit resiliency and recovery fund that leverages federal emergency relief dollars. 

This would provide critical investments in nonprofit organizations, which will allow us to keep our doors open while we deliver essential services to Minnesotans. Our state’s nonprofits stand ready to aid in the recovery from COVID-19 and continue to identify and address the needs within our communities, but we need your immediate and long-term support. 

We urge the governor to support nonprofits to stabilize their critical infrastructure that is foundational to our state’s well-being.

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Rhonda Conn

Rhonda Conn is the acting executive director of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji.

Suzanne Fuller Burks

Suzanne Fuller Burks is the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in near north Minneapolis.