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The Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Colo. is shown in this Dec. 21, 2021 photo. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Small nonprofits could receive pandemic-assistance grants of up to $100,000 through a bill proposed in the Colorado House.

House Bill 1356, known as the Small Community-based Nonprofit Grant Program, is scheduled to get its first hearing Wednesday in the House Transportation and Local Government Committee. The bipartisan measure would give $35 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to the Department of Local Affairs to be distributed through five “regional access partners” to at least 350 nonprofits. 

The bill has been spearheaded by a multiethnic coalition of nonprofit leaders called Communities Lead, Communities Thrive, or CLCT, that serves Black, Indigenous, Latino, AAPI, LGBTQ+ and rural communities.

“A lot of our organizations don’t have access to working capital to rebuild, they’re usually smaller,” CLCT founder Carlos Martinez said. “Some of these challenges sometimes are even larger when you look at organizations that are in rural communities or in communities where there’s very few organizations.”

Pandemic assistance programs have benefited larger nonprofits, but smaller ones without the infrastructure to compete for grants have often been left behind. These organizations often have deeper connections within communities that lead to a better level of cultural awareness than larger groups. The proposed bill would support these smaller groups that provide critical services to those most severely impacted by the pandemic.

Carlos Martinez speaks at a capacity building session with nonprofits throughout Colorado last year. (Courtesy of Latino Community Foundation of Colorado)

“We’re looking at (these recovery dollars) to be very strategic dollars to get invested to help rebuild not just nonprofits, but these communities,” said Martinez, who is also the CEO of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado. “We’re looking at how we are almost shaping the next generation of these communities who are vastly impacted by COVID.”

The prime sponsors of the bill are Rep. Leslie Herod and Sen. Julie Gonzales, both Denver Democrats, as well as Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, and Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

“This legislation will direct urgently needed resources to nonprofits across our state that need a hand in recovering from the pandemic, allowing them to keep their doors open and continue providing the critical services Coloradans depend on to thrive,” Gonzales said.

CLCT member Ricardo Perez is the executive director of the Hispanic Affairs Project or HAP, a small nonprofit serving immigrants in Western Colorado. HAP has served immigrants throughout the pandemic, including translating information from Health and Human Services into Spanish and providing assistance in the Western Slope’s “legal desert,” where there are only a few immigration attorneys practice.

HAP doesn’t have the infrastructure to compete for many state or federal grants. Perez said it feels like HAP and other small, rural nonprofits receive 20 cents for every dollar that a traditional nonprofit gets. He supports the bill because it levels the playing field.

Community members draw how they envision a community center for immigrants in Montrose, CO. (Karen Sherman, Hispanic Affairs Project)

“It’s an opportunity for the state of Colorado not only to say that we are promoting equity, but we are putting in practice equity in the way we are doing better investment for small nonprofits,” Perez said.

The Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora expanded its services in response to the pandemic. Grant funding from the government and different foundations were helpful at the beginning of the pandemic, but have fallen off despite the persistence of the virus and anti-Asian hate crimes, President and CEO Harry Budisidharta said. 

“Local nonprofits like APDC, we are often counted on by our community to respond to a lot of hate-crime incidents, difficulties they’re having with COVID, whether that is food delivery or ensuring they have a safe workplace,” said Budisidhartha, who also serves on CLCT.

The bill must pass through several committees and votes before it lands on the governor’s desk and is signed into law, but Budisidhartha said organizations could see funding near the end of 2022.

HAP might not be eligible to apply for one of the grants. Still, Perez said it’s about more than money.

“It’s about recognizing the diversity, the cultural diversity, we enjoy in Colorado,” Perez said. “This is the way we are, as a nonprofit, supporting each other.”