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Federal fund not enough, charities warn

  • April 30, 2020

A $350 million federal fund to help charities get through the COVID-19 crisis is simply not enough, charitable sector spokespeople have told The Catholic Register.

“I’m very pleased that the emergency fund is there. I’m very pleased by the prime minister’s reference to people in the disability community. But it simply didn’t go far enough,” said L’Arche Canada director of strategic development and innovation Lori Vaanholt.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $350 million “Emergency Community Support Fund” on April 21. With an emphasis on frontline services that deliver meals and medications to vulnerable seniors or organizations that help with the lockdown spike in family violence, the money will be delivered through large charitable sector intermediaries including United Way Canada, the Canadian Red Cross and Community Foundations of Canada.

Imagine Canada, the organization that represents charities with lobbying and research, has calculated that the charitable sector could see losses of between $9.5 billion and $15.7 billion this year, which would translate into layoffs of 184,000 to 194,000 employees in the sector. In March, 260 organizations signed onto a letter to the prime minister asking for a $10-billion stabilization fund.

“Seventy per cent of charitable organizations in this country have experienced a decline in their overall revenues. More than two-fifths have laid off staff and another 25 per cent are anticipating further layoffs,” said Dr. Samantha Nutt, one of the principal organizers of the Emergency Coalition of Canadian Charities asking for a stabilization fund.

“We’re not there yet. We’re not even halfway to what we were hoping for,” Nutt told The Catholic Register.

At Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Toronto, member agencies are trying to figure out whether or not they qualify for the new funds, said executive director Michael Fullan.

“We’re talking as a group of agencies,” he said. “I’m not sure who is going to be eligible or who is going to qualify.”

Meanwhile, Catholic agencies are concerned about funding from ShareLife, the archdiocese-wide Lenten appeal that was just about to launch when COVID-19 shut down all the churches.

“Usually it’s the Catholic Charities-ShareLife dollar that is the stable one,” Fullan explained. “You’re always worried about whether your government funding will be there, whatever stream it is. But right now, because this all happened just when the ShareLife campaign was going to take off in parishes, it has just increased the pressure on us as a Church to respond to these needs and pick up what we do.”

The charitable sector recognizes Ottawa has come through in part, said Nutt. In addition to the Emergency Community Support Fund, the 75-per-cent wage subsidy for employers who have experienced revenue losses above 15 per cent should pour $2.5 billion into Canada’s 86,000 registered charities. Another $500 million from Heritage Canada to support non-profit cultural organizations, from performing arts to amateur sports, also helps.

But that still leaves the sector with a $5-to-$6-billion hole to fill, Nutt said.

“Coming out of this, we’re going to need our charities and our non-profits more than we have ever, ever needed them,” she said. “We’re going to have more vulnerable Canadians, more Canadians out of work.”

Cardus, a conservative Christian think tank, has been urging the federal government to set up a dollar-for-dollar matching fund.

Such a matching fund “leverages (the government’s) financial capacity to encourage all Canadians to support their fellow citizens,” said Cardus Institute vice president of external affairs Brian Dijkema.

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