Our Letter to BC's Premier John Horgan
The Honourable John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia
Office of the Premier
Premier and President of the Executive Council
West Annex Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC., March 24, 2020
Subject: Ensuring Not-for-Profits and Charities are Included in COVID-19 Relief Plans and Funding
BC's not-for-profit and charitable sector is actively supporting the Government of British Columbia, businesses, and the public during the COVID-19 crisis. The vital work our sector exists to accomplish - from supporting people with addictions and overdose prevention services, to supporting victims of domestic violence, and deploying volunteers safely - is work British Columbians are relying on; and now we must weather an unprecedented crisis. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the capacity of the not-for-profit sector needs urgent attention before we are forced to lay off the staff vulnerable community members trust and need.
BC's not-for-profit sector consists of approximately 28,000 societies affecting every aspect of British Columbians' lives. Community not-for-profits also represent a crucial source of employment for more than 86,000 people and contribute up to $6.69 billion in programs and services across the province.
We acknowledge the speed at which your government has been taking measures to navigate this crisis. We ask for you to pause and consider the unique and substantial ways in which not-for-profits are being called upon to support British Columbians through these tumultuous times. To this end, we urge the Government of British Columbia to consider the following recommendations to address these crucial concerns:
1. Immediate and direct support to safely coordinate the deployment of volunteers.
Volunteer Centres and not-for-profits are experts in deploying volunteers safely. While the upsurge of desire to help those in need is admirable and should be encouraged, there are very real risks to those most vulnerable to this virus. There are creative, innovative, and safe ways to connect people to professional not-for-profits which have direct relationships with vulnerable populations. Please provide emergency funding to experts in volunteer management and deployment for the safety of these communities.
2. Promise us any emergency relief programs and funds made available to businesses also include clearly defined mechanisms to support the not-for-profit and charitable sector.
Not-for-profits and charities are seeing the same - or greater - revenue losses and challenges as private businesses. Even their non-governmental funders are losing money and staff. After years of dwindling funding sources and limited alternatives for undesignated funding, few organizations have cash reserves on which they can draw during a crisis. Applicable mechanisms for the sector must include access to emergency short-term capital in the form of stabilization grants and low-interest and/or forgivable loans.
3. Relax funding restrictions and provide greater flexibility to the allocation of funds.
Not-for-profit organizations experience additional pressures due to the ways they are funded. Funding agreements may stipulate outcomes for the number of participants, and these might not be met during a health crisis. There are serious implications for not-for-profits if governmental and non-governmental funders and donors reinforce expectations for outcomes our outputs which may not be manageable - or even possible. Similar to many non-governmental funders, the government must ensure all government departments and agencies continue to flow funds through grant and contribution programs. Additionally, flexibility must be emphasized in program delivery timelines and the use of these funds. Administrative burdens related to reporting and renewal should also be minimized. Clear communication around flexibility measures would provide much-needed assistance for not-for-profits.
4. Assure further measures, which provide employee assistance and help to retain employment, address the unique needs of charities and not-for-profits.
We are pleased to see various levels of government implement mechanisms to mitigate job losses and support those who have been laid off. However, there are unique needs for employees in the not-for-profit sector. While mortgage deferrals will be a welcome respite for households affected by job losses, most not-for-profit employees are renters with average salaries 13.8% less than the provincial average. We look forward to hearing announcements about supports for renters and to avoid evictions affecting both individuals and organizations who will be unable to cover lease payments.
5. Ensure communications about emergency funds and programming refer to employers rather than businesses.
Charities and not-for-profits employ over 86,000 British Columbians; the government's language should reflect this fact so your staff, the public, and not-for-profits are clear regarding who you are including.
6. Create and expand not-for-profit advisory groups and round tables to represent the full sector.
The not-for-profit sector includes thousands of organizations which do not get direct government contracts and funding but remain vital to the government's response and recovery capacity (consider first responder associations, supporting paramedics, nurses, pharmacists, and firefighters, for example). Not-for-profit voices will explicitly address the needs of the not-for-profit sector in emergency preparedness response and recovery, including their volunteers, workers, and constituents.
7. Consider the impact of essential services designation and lockdown exemption orders on not-for-profits.
Not-for-profits are actively doing our part to flatten the curve, but also have to be sure we can continue to provide the services communities depend on and the infrastructure which enables the important work of charities, social services, and other community assets. Charities and not-for-profits can't simply cease their activities during this crisis. It violates their legal mandates and would increase the strain on public services at a time when none of us can afford fewer essential supports. Together with our peers in the sector, we have been looking to the Ontario designation of essential services as a model to follow if further social distancing actions are required.
It is imperative the BC Provincial Government provides clarity and a plan of action on these fundamental elements, as it significantly impacts the operational capacity and long-term sustainability for thousands of organizations province-wide.
The not-for-profit sector is designed to help vulnerable people. We are designed to manage volunteers. We are designed to collaborate to achieve a vision of a just, caring, and healthy society. Accounting for over 86,000 employees and $6.69 billion across the province, we must be your partner. Just as you see the business sector as your partner in the economy, the not-for-profit sector is your partner in community care, emergency response, and rebuilding our beautiful province. We won't be here to accomplish these priorities if you do not expressly support our entire sector.