As the most active cultural institution in Maine and one of the state’s leading nonprofit organizations, the Portland Museum of Art is grateful for Sen. Susan Collins’ work on the COVID-19 emergency relief package. We particularly appreciate the inclusion of funding and policy changes to aid small businesses, the broad means of support provided for individuals struggling financially and the extension and increase of charitable giving incentives.

“Human Structures (24 Figures Connected)” by Jonathan Borofsky is displayed in the Sculpture Park at the Portland Museum of Art. It is imperative that when determining eligibility for emergency relief such as SBA grants or the PPP extension, criteria are established that include nonprofits in the equation. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Whether confronting homelessness and poverty, extending the reach of health care, accessing vital services for immigrants or enabling a transformative artistic experience, nonprofit organizations provide essential support toward the general welfare of Maine residents. In addition to contributing crucial services, nonprofits are vital to the state economy. According to the Maine Association of Nonprofits, in a typical year, nonprofit organizations contribute $12 billion through wages paid, retail and wholesale purchases, and professional services contracted; pay $4.7 billion annually in wages, which translates to approximately $271 million in personal income tax revenue, and employ more than 98,000 individuals – or one in six Mainers.

But as we all know, 2020 has not been a typical year. Maine, like the rest of the country, faces a crisis that is devastating both our economy and our public health. That is why we must ensure that this emergency funding package provides support for the nonprofit organizations on the front lines of this crisis.

Cultural nonprofits in particular have been underrepresented in recent emergency funding and strategic planning. Because of this, in the past few weeks, after an exploratory period informed by conversations with colleagues and funders around the state, an ad hoc group of leaders representing more than a dozen Maine cultural nonprofits formed the Cultural Alliance of Maine, a statewide advocacy group to give stronger voice, presence and support to Maine’s critical cultural sector. The CAM Pilot Project has posted a search on the Maine Association of Nonprofits’ job board for a project director.

CAM will provide a vital platform for Maine’s diverse cultural sector. A voice in decision-making processes and a seat at that table, as well as information sharing and peer learning, are always critical – and most especially in a crisis, as we have all just been reminded.

While extending charitable giving incentives as stated in the COVID funding bill offers welcome assistance for the nonprofit sector, we must also ensure that over-restrictive eligibility criteria do not exclude these organizations from additional emergency relief, such as Small Business Administration grants or the Paycheck Protection Program extension. The bill states that PPP relief will apply toward small businesses and nonprofit organizations that can demonstrate a 25 percent loss of revenue; however, revenue loss should not be defined solely in terms of taxable retail sales. Admission, for instance, makes up a significant portion of revenue for many cultural organizations, but was considered ineligible as revenue in the most recent round of CARES Act funding. Similarly, net revenue for nonprofits should exclude restricted and endowment contributions, and restricted revenues such as investment income on endowments, none of which can be applied toward operating expenses.

It is imperative that when determining funding eligibility, criteria are established that include nonprofits in the equation. Nonprofits, which provide such vital services, economic contributions and employment to Maine, must be considered on equal footing for this vital funding. Sen. Collins initially referred to the new funding bill as a “Christmas miracle”; we can only hope that miracle will apply equally to all Maine organizations.

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