As leaders of Colorado nonprofits that work in underserved and under-resourced communities of color and rural areas of the state, we’ve seen firsthand over the past two years the devastating and disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis. As we rebuild in the wake of the pandemic, we need to ensure an equitable recovery for all, and that means investing in the communities that have been hit hardest. 

Mardi Moore, left, and LaDawn Sullivan

Thanks to funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, we now have an opportunity to truly build back better for all Coloradans. That’s why our organizations have joined the Asian Pacific Development Center, the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, and The Hispanic Affairs Project to create the Communities Lead, Communities Thrive Coalition.

Our coalition is made up of smaller Colorado nonprofits serving Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ+, and rural communities who have come together to ensure that our organizations and the communities we serve are not left behind as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition is working to pass House Bill 22-1356, sponsored by Representatives Edie Hooton and Leslie Herod and Senators Julie Gonzales and Bob Rankin. This bipartisan bill will make a critical investment of Rescue Plan funds in the small community-based nonprofits that have been critical lifelines throughout the pandemic for marginalized communities.

Throughout the pandemic, many nonprofits had to abruptly shift focus and resources to support their communities. After-school recreation programs began providing neighborhood meals. Mental-health organizations began providing housing assistance. Advocacy groups began providing direct assistance grants to families. In unexpected ways, nonprofits across the state have stepped up to serve their neighborhoods.

The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for the countless Coloradans who lost their jobs, their homes, or worse, a loved one. Unfortunately, we know that the impacts of the pandemic were not felt equally and existing social inequities only grew deeper. As a result, many Colorado families that were already struggling before the pandemic hit are now struggling to get back on their feet.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado is disproportionately prevalent among Hispanics, African Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. For example, Hispanics account for 22% of the state’s population but represent 28% of cases. African Americans account for 4% of the state’s population but represent 7% of cases, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders represent 0.1% of the population but 0.6% of cases. 

Communities of color reported the largest losses of livelihood, having a harder time paying bills, and increased overall economic instability. Lower-income LGBTQ+ individuals in Colorado reported the greatest needs for mental health, medical, and unemployment benefit services during the pandemic, and LGBTQ+ and communities of color reported the greatest needs for financial assistance.

These families are still in need of support and services, which they often receive through small nonprofits. As trusted local voices, these nonprofits uniquely understand their community’s specific needs and how to effectively disperse resources and services. HB-1356 will help ensure we are reaching these communities that often fall through the cracks by directly providing resources to the nonprofits already doing this work. 

Investing in nonprofits also is a boon to Colorado’s economy. Our state’s nonprofit sector employs more Coloradans than the agriculture, mining, and information industries combined, and the nonprofit sector’s direct spending is $20 billion with an overall economic impact of $40 billion. In fact, for every $1 million spent, nonprofits create 10 jobs compared to 7 in the for-profit sector. 

HB-1356 would ensure that these nonprofits have the funding necessary to continue to survive and adapt at a time when their services are more critical than ever. Nonprofits would be able to use grant funding from this bill to improve their technology infrastructure, develop strategic plans, provide professional development for staff and communications, and build capacity. We believe by investing our resources here, we can have the greatest direct impact on marginalized communities. 

While the pandemic may be fading from the headlines, for many Coloradans the effects will be long-lasting. With HB-1356 we can invest in our nonprofit system to help power an equitable pandemic recovery that benefits our whole state and builds a better Colorado for us all. 

Mardi Moore, of Boulder, is executive director of Out Boulder County. LaDawn Sullivan, of Denver, is director of Black Resilience in Colorado. Both are steering committee members of the Communities Lead, Communities Thrive coalition.

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