No one in this country–and few around the world–remain untouched by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like others, Living Cities and our members–18 prominent foundations and financial institutions working together to close racial gaps in income and wealth–have been seeking the best ways to respond to the public health crisis and resulting economic upheaval. Living Cities’ members responses to the pandemic come in many forms and at different levels, helping individuals, institutions, communities, and broader systems.

As a long-standing collaborative, Living Cities’ executive committee asked us to survey our members and share a snapshot of our various member institutions’ emerging COVID-19 responses. This blog is a summary of that survey, with illustrative examples. This is not meant to be comprehensive of all activities undertaken by any one of our members, or even necessarily up to date as we know these responses are evolving as needs change and new partnerships form to address them. Yet we hope this list will give you a sense of what is out there to help you develop your own responses strategies if you are in the position to do so, or to offer support if you are someone you know needs it.

Supporting the Health & Financial Security of Employees

Organizations across this country have closed their doors to help “flatten the curve” of the spreading virus. Living Cities members are no exception, with most shifting their teams to telework arrangements and cancelling or delaying in-person meetings and convenings. Many are finding new ways to support staff in managing new challenges related to family needs and mental health. For example, the Kauffman Foundation, a Living Cities funder, also supports a #CoworkingWithKids slack channel to support each other and staff may have more flexibility in the hours they work to account for the demands of parenting. Other members have offered grants to employees facing financial hardship, such as Wells Fargo’s WE Care Fund or Citi’s payments of $1,000 to employees under a certain income cap. Citi has also chosen to make good on the job offers extended to new employees, even though the current times create real challenges to taking on new staff.

Flexibility and Stability for Grantees

Foundations recognize that all of their grantees are affected in different ways, but the common thread is the need for greater flexibility and stability. To that end, six of Living Cities’ members (Ford Foundation, JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, McKnight Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Surdna Foundation) have joined hundreds of other foundations in signing the Council on Foundations’ pledge to loosen restrictions on current grantees, make new grants as flexible as possible, reduce requirements, communicate about decision-making, listen to community partners, support partners in seeking equitable and just emergency responses, and consider what they learn during this crisis that might be carried forward beyond the pandemic.

Grantees are being affected in different ways, but the common thread is the need for greater flexibility and stability.

In this spirit, Living Cities members have been reaching out to reassure grantees that there will be no penalties for cancelled events or changes to their plans based on their revised assessment of what is needed most, and that grants and timelines can be extended. All are listening more closely to the priorities and perspectives of grantees who are closer to the community and some, like the Ford Foundation, are converting some restricted grant dollars to general operating support to allow grantees to weather this difficult time and make the choices that are best for their employees and the communities they serve. Seeking to reduce the burden on grantees, the McKnight Foundation quickly implemented a three-month extension on all scheduled grant reports, and the Ford Foundation also delayed or suspended reporting requirements, expedited grant approvals or amendments, and front-loaded payment schedules as needed. The Prudential Foundation is leveraging their business expertise to offer pro bono support to grantees as they navigate financial management challenges, and the JPB Foundation is connecting grantees to supports to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and curating other resources on financial sustainability and HR support.

Relief and Guidance for Customers & Clients

With businesses closing and millions applying for unemployment insurance, our member financial institutions are actively seeking strategies to relieve the immediate pressure on customers and clients and help them navigate the rocky shoals of this crisis. Common approaches include deferred payments on loans, waived or refunded fees for overdraft or similar fees for those experiencing financial hardship, and suspended foreclosure sales for homeowners. In addition, some of our members are offering more flexible hours and sharing guidance with clients on financial strategies for sustainability through this economic downturn.

Addressing Critical Public Health Needs

To tackle the urgent health system needs aimed at controlling the spread of the pandemic and caring for those who have already contracted the virus, a number of financial institutions, such as Bank of America, Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Truist and Wells Fargo, are addressing critical public health needs through investments in key funding collaboratives, including:

  • The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, a partnership of the UN Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation formed at the request of WHO, which works on rapid detection of new cases, stopping transmission, caring for those affected and providing needed support to frontline workers;
  • The CDC Foundation, which offers financial support to state and local health departments, logistics, personnel, data management, communications, protective equipment and critical supplies to healthcare workers; and
  • The International Medical Corp, which supports medical staff training, clinical guidance, planning protocols on screening patients, and enhanced infection prevention and control. The Gates Foundation has also made critical investments in a COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator to develop and provide access to key therapies for COVID-19, and supporting the public health systems in the Greater Seattle region.
A medical professional uses a pipette.

Image: “State Public Health Laboratory in Exton Tests for COVID-19” by Governor Tom Wolfe

Emergency Response for Communities and Families

Some Living Cities members are contributing to local disaster relief funds in headquarter cities or key areas of focus, equipping institutions in the community – whether municipalities, United Ways, or existing collective action efforts – to manage the emergency response across public health, small businesses. For example, the Kellogg Foundation contributed to the United Way’s Disaster Relief Fund to work with nonprofit agencies and local governments in Battle Creek, Mich., to assess and meet basic needs such as food access, emergency childcare, and the impact of lost wages. The MacArthur Foundation is supporting the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, providing essential aid to 42 organizations addressing emergency needs in the city. And Prudential supported community efforts in Newark, Hartford and El Paso.

In addition to community-based efforts, others are providing support to address specific short-term needs:

Household Basic Needs:

Beyond the devastating impacts on people’s health and the loss of life due to COVID-19, households all across the US are facing new or exacerbated challenges.

  • Household Financial Health: The Rockefeller Foundation is making a major commitment to supporting economic stability for low-wage workers, including connecting more families to federal supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), and Wells Fargo is supporting national and local organizations that offer financial counseling and grants to those struggling to make ends meet due to loss of income.
  • Food: With millions of workers filing for unemployment as a result of the pandemic, and millions of children out of school, food insecurity is an urgent concern for families across the country. In response, Citi Foundation, Morgan Stanley, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the MetLife Foundation have offered support to national nonprofits (No Kid Hungry, Feeding America, and Meals on Wheels), and the MetLife Foundation is supporting food banks in several communities across the U.S.
  • Housing: In addition to the efforts of many banks to provide greater flexibility for borrowers or suspend foreclosure sales, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has provided support to the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition—a group dedicated to ensuring that federal support for disaster recovery prioritizes the housing needs of the lowest income people. Funding from Wells Fargo is also being allocated to critical housing needs such as helping renters and homeowners stay in their homes through foreclosure prevention assistance, eviction assistance and financial counseling and coaching.
  • Internet Connectivity: Critical for work or education during this time of social distancing, broadband remains inaccessible for millions of Americans. Truist, a Living Cities funder, has awarded grants to community partners across five areas of basic needs, including expanding broadband access to households in need.
Mosaic artwork depicting colorful people, some with their arms raised in the air.

People Power, mosaic by Herb Neufeld

Small Business Sustainability:

Financial institutions are leveraging their expertise and capital to address small business needs; for example, Wells Fargo partnered with Opportunity Fund to provide needed cash along with financial coaching for entrepreneurs and their low-wage workers through SaverLife.

Nonprofit Sustainability:

In hard-hit New York City, multiple funders (including the JPB Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Wells Fargo and numerous others) have come together through the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to ensure the sustainability of the vital–and vulnerable–network of social service, arts and culture nonprofits that could otherwise be lost.

Civic Engagement:

One of the risks that the Ford Foundation is seeking to address is the threat this pandemic poses to crucial civic engagement opportunities, such as elections (including the Presidential election in November) and the decennial Census, that will impact our communities and our nation for years to come. Attention is needed to ensure that all Americans can participate in elections and be counted in the Census.

Special Populations:

Some members are ensuring we don’t forget the unique situation of special populations in our emergency response. For example, the Ford Foundation is developing specific strategies to meet the needs of those in prison or criminal detention centers where it can be particularly difficult to stop the spread of the virus if there are COVID-19 outbreaks. The Wells Fargo Pandemic Financial Resilience Resource Center provides accessible information and counseling to people with disabilities and chronic health conditions nationwide. And the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given to the NDN Collective, an organization dedicated to building indigenous power, recognizing that indigenous communities in the US are disproportionately vulnerable to the disease due to structural inequities.

Living Cities will work with our members to prioritize racial justice as we collectively seek to reimagine and rebuild our nation in the wake of COVID-19…

Systemic Responses

As foundations and financial institutions address urgent needs created by the pandemic, they also recognize the need to tackle the fundamental flaws in our health, economic, and democratic systems that have been laid bare by this crisis. The Kauffman Foundation reaffirmed that their strategies remain oriented toward “helping individuals build wealth and close race and income gaps,” and support a more inclusive community-based economy over the long-term, and the Rockefeller Foundation declared that “[t]here is no investment in America that gets a better ROI than investment in an equitable future for America’s workers.” Some of these systemic responses entail the expansion of solutions that have been shown to work, such as paid sick leave, access to affordable health care, rental assistance or refundable tax credits, while others will require new approaches and a willingness to deeply listen to the concerns and ideas of people—particularly people of color—who are most impacted by the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown into stark relief.

This moment in our history presents enormous challenges, but also a significant opportunity. Living Cities will work with our members to prioritize racial justice as we collectively seek to reimagine and rebuild our nation in the wake of COVID-19 so that all people can be economically secure, building wealth and living abundant, dignified and connected lives.