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Coronavirus Package Could Provide Aid To Montana Nonprofits

Quasar and Infiniti Thompson perform at a community music night in February 2020 at the Lewistown Art Center in Lewistown, Montana.
Mary Callahan Baumstark
Lewistown Art Center
The Lewistown Art Center is a cultural hub in central Montana. It supports 150 regional artists, hosts performances and monthly gallery exhibits, and provides classes for kids and adults.

Many nonprofit organizations across Montana have canceled programs and postponed big spring fundraisers in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Participants in a recent survey say they’re concerned how the economic fallout from COVID-19 will affect them and the communities they serve. The new $2 trillion coronavirus response package could provide some relief.

The Lewistown Art Center is a cultural hub in central Montana. It supports 150 regional artists, hosts performances and monthly gallery exhibits, and provides classes for kids and adults.

But when Governor Steve Bullock directed public schools to close Mar. 16 to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Lewistown Art Center’s director Mary Callahan Baumstark says the organization followed suit.

“We have so many kids cycle through the building weekly, and it’s just really difficult to sanitize things like clay and art supplies so we decided to close down the building,” Baumstark says.

Baumstark says it’s a scary time right now.

“Our income was really significantly reduced in a really difficult quarter so our offerings will probably be reduced in the coming year,” Baumstark says.

The Lewistown Art Center is one of 2,200 nonprofit employers in Montana, many of which are facing similar economic hardships. The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act could help eligible nonprofits weather the storm.

Nonprofits that have existed since Mar. 1 with 500 or fewer employees can apply for Emergency Small Business Loans to cover payroll, health insurance premiums, facilities costs and debt service. These loans are forgivable if the nonprofit has kept staff on the payroll between Mar. 1 and Jun. 30.

Larger nonprofits can apply for low interest loans that do not accrue interest or require repayments for the first six months through the new Industry Stabilization Fund. Unlike the Emergency Small Business Loans, these don’t provide loan forgiveness. Nonprofits with this type of loan must retain or rehire at least 90 percent of their staff at full compensation.

Nonprofits of any size can also apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the Small Business Association. These low interest loans can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.

“We’re just now looking at the CARES Act and all the SBA stuff trying to understand what kind of relief is available to nonprofits,” says Montana Nonprofit Association Executive Director Liz Moore.

Over the last two weeks, the Montana Nonprofit Association has sent weekly surveys to gauge how nonprofits in the state are faring.

“Non-profits generally aren’t accustomed to navigating this terrain. Most of us don’t have familiarity with applying for loans, and so that makes it intimidating, but you just have to get past that and assert for yourself in the same way you do with fundraising,” says Moore.

Moore says the first survey, sent out shortly after the first COVID-19 cases in Montana were announced, received more than 400 responses.

“So that tells you the heightened level of anxiety, and the concerns were about staffing, working from home, cancelling our events -- all of that. The concerns were really infrastructure concerns,” Moore says.

Moore says the second survey, which wrapped up on Saturday, shows a transition.

“The concerns have really shifted to the mission, and how are the children. That is a huge issue,” Moore says.

She says nearly half of the nonprofits said they expect to see an increased demand in their services.

That includes HAVEN, the Bozeman nonprofit that serves survivors of domestic violence. Executive Director Erica Aytes Coyle says incidents of violence will increase when survivors and their abusers are in constant close quarters together. HAVEN’s 24 hour support line (406-586-4111) is still available and the organization has extended its online chat service from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm.

Aytes Coyle says the number of survivors reaching out via chat increased by 300 percent in the last week. HAVEN reduced its shelter capacity but will provide hotel stays. The organization has also moved counseling and advocacy to a secure remote platform.

Back in Lewistown, Mary Callahan Baumstark says she and her staff at the art center are still staying busy despite being closed to the public. The center worked with the local Boys and Girls Club to distribue art kits to homebound kids, and it’s in the process of getting an online store and exhibit space.

“So that not only can our community access that kind of art and culture that they expect from us, but also we might be able to increase economic opportunities for artists in our region,” Baumstark says.

Baumstark says online sales, grants and one of the federal relief loans may help the art center ride out COVID-19.