By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

Do a quick online news search of the phrase “government shutdown and Denver nonprofits,” and you’ll get a lot of headlines about organizations stepping up their services to help furloughed government workers and those working without pay.

Amid Shutdown, Nonprofit Helping Furloughed JeffCo Residents. Food Bank of the Rockies Steps Up Distributions in Response to Federal Government’s Partial Shutdown. Colorado Nonprofit Boots 66 Steps In to Help Feed TSA Employees.

Thank goodness for those organizations, right? Seems like they were just waiting on the sidelines for a chance to swoop in and save the day with all those resources they had set aside for just such a purpose.

OK, maybe not so much.

Many of the country’s nonprofits already struggled to meet the basic needs of their clients before the government opted to swiftly grow the ranks of those facing food insecurity or inability to pay the rent, as a result of decreased giving and grants. Some of those groups even had waiting lists before the government shut down.

Now, they may be expending resources faster than forecast.

As the president of the National Council of Nonprofits wrote in an impassioned January 11 letter to the president and Congress calling on them to immediately reopen the federal government: “Nonprofits providing various forms of human services are being called upon to provide support for new populations of persons in need—federal employees and contractors out of work through no fault of their own…

“The dollars and hours of service diverted from nonprofit missions to address this politician-inflicted crisis will never be recouped.”

The letter further notes that furloughed federal employees cannot issue grants or contracts to nonprofits or reimburse the organizations for work they have done for the government.

Without their promised funding, it continues: “organizations are forced to take out lines of credit or layoff staff and reduce or eliminate certain services, costs in economic and human terms that will never be recovered even when government operations return to normal.”

As you’ve almost certainly heard, the president has vowed that the shutdown could last “for months or even years.” A Washington Post article describes other potential threats if the shutdown drags into February or later. These would start with a loss of USDA rent subsidies and could extend to TANF benefits and, eventually, SNAP benefits.

If that happens, where will those former benefit recipients turn for help? Understandably, they’ll look to charity. But nonprofits stepping up to help is only part of the story. If the nation’s giving trees are to continue flowering, others outside government will need to step up to bolster the charities by way of increased funding.

And even more urgently, we must all step up to follow the lead of the National Council of Nonprofits by pressing our government to end this shutdown. Meanwhile, JVA would like to extend our sincere thanks to the social changemaking organizations that are supporting furloughed workers—in addition to tackling their usual incredible workloads. We are honored to work alongside you.

If you receive federal funding, you can find additional information on whether your funding agency is affected in this article by the National League of Cities, which includes helpful links including a list of agencies’ contingency plans.


Check out more blogs by Sandy.