During catastrophes access to the White House, federal agencies and Congressional offices becomes a key component to the Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) Social Policy team’s efforts at informing the national discussion regarding resources provided through legislation for frontline services and support for individuals and families.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic/shutdown, CCUSA’s Social Policy team reached out to Capitol Hill via tele-meetings, contacting key Congressional offices early on to advocate for income supports, personal protective equipment for frontline staff and volunteers, work supports, and other issues of concern. In collaboration with national nonprofits, the team advocated for additional funds for charities through changes in charitable giving policy, direct financial support, loans and other means to assist the nonprofit sector’s response to the pandemic.
Another key component to the work of the Social Policy team is the strength of the Catholic Charities network and the role it plays each and every day to assist individuals and families during challenging times. The policy team had no trouble gaining access to the federal agencies because the ministry of Catholic Charities to those who are poor and vulnerable is well known. Staff in federal agencies respect the work of the Catholic Charities network and were eager to work with CCUSA on how to get support to the frontlines. These agencies wanted to ensure that CCUSA had access to resources and information for service providers. Most of this information is posted on the CCUSA COVID-19 webpage and shared directly with the respective program area.
The Social Policy team connected officials in the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and Homeland Security (FEMA) with Catholic Charities directors and staff across the country so that local concerns could be heard and answered.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) even contacted CCUSA about hosting a webinar for the CCUSA network. The webinar provided information to Catholic Charities agencies on the federal homelessness response to COVID-19, including presentations from the Centers for Disease Control, USICH, HUD. Each of the federal departments addressed questions and concerns regarding guidance, supplies, food shortage and safety. They also provided their contact information.
During the pandemic the CCUSA Social Policy team participated in the process of a bill becoming a law, which involves rulemaking and guidance on how the program is to be administered. Typically, this process is lengthy. However, given the pandemic, rules were made and guidance issued in a very short period of time, which created confusion. Programs such as the Unemployment Insurance program, Paid Family Leave, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were not accessed as intended. The policy team studied the numerous rules and guidance and shared its conclusions with the Catholic Charities network. The team also held webinars on the SBA loans and SNAP, and provided one-on-one consultations.
The team spent a lot of time advocating for more flexibility in the SBA Loan program’s rules, which stated originally that only nonprofit agencies with fewer than 500 employees could qualify. This provision was problematic for at least 15 Catholic Charities agencies that had more than 500 employees. Further advocacy efforts by the Social Policy team led to some of these agencies being granted access to the program.
The CCUSA Social Policy team has worked non-stop since the onset of the pandemic and continues its efforts as another COVID-19 bill is pending, states are reopening, and temporary provisions begin to expire. The Social Policy team continues to advocate for just social structures—it is our mission.