A Community in Need: Our Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Kali Baker, Vice President of Community Investment
Nearly six months ago, the Omaha Community Foundation launched our COVID-19 Response Fund to address the immediate and long-term impacts of COVID on our community.
The intention of the fund is to serve communities who are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and the economic consequences of this outbreak. It’s a collaborative, community response to deploy resources to the local nonprofit organizations who are serving those individuals who need support the most.
To date, the fund has granted more than $1.2 million to more than 51 nonprofits and supported over 100,000 residents. While we are so grateful to the more than 6,000 individuals in the community who have given to the Fund, the need continues to be significant for many residents as the pandemic continues to take its toll.
In March, a first round of grants supported nonprofits addressing the immediate economic and health impacts of the pandemic. In April and May, the Fund augmented those initial investments with additional grants for mounting food insecurity and housing stability.
Throughout these last few months we have learned a lot, but most importantly, we have discovered that our short-term response was only the beginning. As we adapt to emerging needs, we are seeing a long recovery ahead. The pandemic is exacerbating existing disparities, and it will take months—and likely into 2021—to respond adequately.
The scope and breadth of the need in our community is impossible to quantify, but we know from our data and conversations that while the effects of COVID impact us all in some way, there are several groups of people in our community that are suffering most:
The Unemployed – With both local and national unemployment rates reaching all-time highs (local unemployment rates have surged six times higher than this time last year) and additional federal and state unemployment support ending in July, thousands of families in our region could face economic uncertainty throughout 2020 and beyond. There have been over 141,000 new unemployment claims across the states since mid-March representing a 1,500-percent increase over the same period in 2019.
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) – COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting people of color in our community. In Douglas County, 67 percent of COVID-19 cases are people of color, yet they make up only 29 percent of the population. Minorities are at greater risk for contracting COVID, due in part to underlying economic systems and structural racism that have led to worse health outcomes for people of color. Additionally, a survey reported in the Omaha World-Herald showed that only 20 percent of Black workers and 16 percent of Latino workers in Nebraska are able to work from home; increasing the likelihood that Black and Brown residents are at risk to contract the disease in a workplace.
Refugees and Immigrants – The pandemic and its effects are having a compounding effect in refugee and immigrant communities as there are already existing barriers to basic support systems (including employment opportunities) due to low English skills. Many local refugees work in the manufacturing or meatpacking industry and are currently faced with the decision to either keep working and risk exposure, or resign and face unemployment without access to benefits or stimulus support.
Our Fund is making investments to local nonprofits who are working directly to help these impacted groups. We know the fall will bring new challenges as students return to school, unemployment remains high, and families are forced to make difficult decisions around the most basic needs: housing, food, utilities and healthcare.
The Foundation is grateful for those in this community who are working each day to help our vulnerable neighbors confront new realities and is committed to continuing our support to meet these needs now and into the future.