RALEIGH — At 83, Julia Williams and her husband are not shopping for new cars, clothes or home decor, and their expenses have stayed roughly the same throughout the pandemic as they were before it hit.
"We're at the stage where we don't need to be buying more stuff; we need to be getting rid of stuff," Williams said. "I feel very fortunate. I read about all the people hurting and standing in long lines to get some food, and many are in situations that may be much worse than that. There may be people going to bed at night hungry.
"We're still living in our house, and we have things to do to keep us busy."
So when the Raleigh couple — both retired teachers — got a $241 check as part of the federal government's second stimulus package, Williams asked around at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for suggestions on how to put the money to the best use. Friends offered names of several charities, and the Williamses eventually decided to round up the government check to give an even $100 to each one.
It's impossible to say how many people who received payments from the first or second stimulus packages used any of the money to support charities — or whether they would do so with additional funds that might be forthcoming as Congress considers President Joe Biden's proposed "American Rescue Plan."
Financial stability of charities varies
In trying to get money out to people who needed it as quickly as possible, the government set few restrictions on the first two stimulus packages, meaning that the money felt like largess to some and like a frayed lifeline to others. It's not yet clear what rules would be set for any additional funds.
David Heinen, vice president for public policy and advocacy for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, said there are more than 11,000 nonprofit groups in North Carolina with budgets of $50,000 or more. Their financial stability through the pandemic has been as varied as their missions, he said. Those that benefit the performing arts may have lost nearly all their income, while some of those that feed the hungry have received more donations than normal.
While nonprofits could apply for money from the government's Payroll Protection Plan, not all of them received funds. And they did not get direct payments like individual taxpayers did from the stimulus packages.
Heinen said some nonprofits did benefit from a 2020 special deduction of $300 allowed for taxpayers who don't itemize on their returns. Such deductions often inspire generosity from people who might not otherwise make a charitable donation in a given year, he said, and the larger the deduction, the greater the gifts.
The trickle-down effect of money given directly to taxpayers by the government is less reliable.
But it hasn't stopped some groups from asking.
On Thursday, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the N.C. Council of Churches, said her group will be making a gentle appeal to its members from Christian congregations across the state to contribute stimulus money they don't necessarily need to groups that directly aid those who are struggling. The appeal might come through the Council's Facebook page or in the newsletter it sends to members, she said.
Copeland said she would especially like to see some support go to groups that provide direct aid to immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, many of whom work and pay taxes but are ineligible for federal or state aid.
"When you know people are out there working every day and don't get aid, that's a hard story to listen to," Copeland said. "Especially for those who are considered essential workers."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Latinos, Blacks, Native Americans and Asians all have fared worse through the course of the pandemic than whites, with higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death. The CDC also reports that more than 60% of those vaccinated so far against the virus are white.
Pledge Your Check campaign
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, more than 6 million essential workers are ineligible for stimulus funds provided so far, along with 3.8 million of their U.S.-citizen children.
Siembra NC, formed in 2017 to help secure resources for the Latinx community in North Carolina, launched #PledgeYourCheck in January asking those who have received stimulus funds they can afford to share to donate to the group to provide direct cash assistance for clients needing help.
Andrew Willis Garcés, the group's director, said that early in the pandemic, Siembra NC realized that many Latino people were not wearing face masks because they didn't know where to find them. The group began going into neighborhoods and handed out more than 30,000 masks.
As the pandemic spread and businesses closed or cut hours, families began to lose income and fall behind in their rent, risking eviction.
In addition to helping families navigate the court system to forestall evictions during the pandemic, Siembra NC asked for donations during the first round of stimulus payments, most of which were made last April and May.
Garcés said the group received more than $115,000 and helped more than 400 families pay rent or buy groceries or other necessities.
"We helped a lot of immigrants who had nowhere else to turn," he said.