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Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund launched with $3.95 million

Posted March 18, 2020 in Articles

Author: Rachel Dissel

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A relief fund created by local philanthropic partners from across Northeast Ohio will soon distribute grants to community safety net agencies able to swiftly deploy services to medically and economically vulnerable populations grappling with fallout from the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, which launched Tuesday with $ 3.95 million will give operating grants to nonprofits on the front lines of the crisis that have experience meeting immediate needs, according to a release from the Cleveland Foundation, one of 18 initial donors supporting the fund.

The others include: The Abington Foundation, The Bruening Foundation, City of Cleveland, Cleveland Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland Indians Charities, Cuyahoga County, The George Gund Foundation, HealthComp Foundation, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, KeyBank Foundation, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, Reinberger Foundation, Saint Luke’s Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Third Federal Foundation, The Thomas H. White Foundation, a Key Trust and United Way of Greater Cleveland.

Individual donors, companies and other organizations can contribute in any amount to the fund at: ClevelandFoundation.org/Response.

Specifically, the fund will support organizations that serve residents who are:

  • Low-income
  • Lack health insurance or access to paid sick days
  • Are over 60 or at high-risk for COVID-19 because of compromised immunity or who are pregnant
  • Homeless or experiencing housing instability
  • Have limited English proficiency
  • Healthcare, service industry and part-time workers
  • People of color
  • Have disabilities
  • Incarcerated or returning to the community

The fund is designed to complement public health efforts in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties and to address the quickly changing community needs due to the pandemic and following government orders that have shut down schools and businesses, and banned gatherings of 50 or more people, according to the foundations.

The overwhelming majority of the money will go to organizations that are able to deploy resources quickly to meet community needs, according to the fund partners.

United Way will bring “on the ground” knowledge gained through calls to its 2-1-1 helpline to inform the funders about what the greatest needs are now and as they evolve, Nancy Mendez, vice president of Community Impact for the agency said.

Calls to 2-1-1 have increased 62 % since Monday, and are expected to keep rising, Mendez said.

Callers are looking for where to get food, and they are fearful of not being able to pay for rent or utilities, she said. Those needs will be tackled first, followed by longer-term housing and stability concerns.

At this point, many of the callers are people who have lost their jobs or had working hours reduced and are worrying, “Am I going to be able to make the month’s rent. Am I going to be able to buy groceries?”

Agencies are already adjusting the rapidly changing times, too, Mendez said.

“This is not something we were thinking," she said. "Nobody expected a pandemic.”

Nevertheless, they are adjusting with food pantries creating drive-up lines for people to grab food and leave, while maintaining physical distance.

Seniors, who used to congregate at meal centers, are now home bound, and need meals delivered, which adds an extra cost for to-go containers.

In addition to operating grants, the fund partners announced they would also advocate for increasing government action that “promotes robust and timely public sector or or financial investment” and needed regulatory, administrative, program changes to address this crisis that could include issues surrounding evictions and utility shut-offs, unemployment benefits, and lapses in health insurance coverage for children and those supported by Medicaid.

Initially, instead of using a traditional proposal process, the funders will work to identify potential grant recipients, based on guidance from community advisors, according to the release.

The money will be doled out on a rolling basis as fundraising continues throughout the pandemic’s crisis and recovery stages, allowing for grants to quickly adapt as needs evolve.

The fund won’t be able, at least initially, to fill in financial gaps for organizations that have lost revenues or will lose revenues due to canceled events or programs.

Grants will be limited to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and groups fiscally sponsored by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, or other charitable organizations able to receive a tax-deductible contribution, such as schools, faith-based organizations and other public entities. The fund cannot give grants directly to individuals, businesses or labor unions.

The nature of this crisis is rapidly evolving, said Dan Cohn, vice president of strategy at the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, which means the nature and spirit of the fund will need to nimble in its response to what community agencies are seeing.

“When push comes to shove the funders got together and said nobody can do this alone,” Cohn said. That’s, in part, because foundations aren’t versed in responding to infectious disease — so they are learning the road as they walk it, he said.

But they do understand that, like other crises that Cleveland has faced, people experiencing poverty are at higher risk for both immediate health issues and for longer term economic fall out.

“The fund will have to respond to the now and as we go forward," he said.

Lessons from Seattle

In looking to rapidly deploy resources, Cleveland philanthropic organizations looked to Seattle.

The Seattle Foundation launched its COVID-19 Response Fund on March 9 and it has quickly garnered nearly $10 million dollars in commitments, which will be mostly distributed as grants to cover operating costs for organizations with “deep roots” in the community who will serve people affected by the spread of the virus, and the expected financial hardship following business shutdowns, according to Michele Frix, chief strategy officer at the foundation.

Initial conversations started, she said, in early March as the Puget sound area became one of the epicenters for the virus. It became clear “something big” was coming and that any fund created would need to be “agile” and able to adjust to the rapidly shifting effects of the virus on healthcare and basic needs, Frix said.

By the following week, the fund had initial commitments of $2.5 million, including from city, county and business partners. Companies including Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines also have made significant donations, most of it unrestricted.

Seattle’s foundation expects to be able to start giving grants by the end of the month, using a streamlined process that will provide general operating costs to long-term nonprofit partners who serve communities of color, immigrants, refugees and people who may work in the “gig” economy and may not have access to government aid.

“This is going to have an enormous economic impact on our region,” Frix said. “We need to make sure that the impact doesn’t exacerbate racial and financial inequities that already exist.”

No matter how things shift, a core principle is to meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable already, she said.

The desire to help included individuals. A Go Fund Me account was set up for those donations.

On a tactical level, the foundation had to set up a system, including FAQs sheets for its employees to triage calls from people in need — Uber drivers and single moms who work in hotel housekeeping jobs — to route them to help they could access quickly.

The coming together of resources across the community has been important for the spirit people who live in the Seattle area, Frix said.

“There’s a feeling that these are uncertain times, but we have each other,” Frix said.

Original Article: https://www.cleveland.com/coronavirus/2020/03/greater-cleveland-covid-19-rapid-response-fund-launche