In March 2020, two weeks after COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in the United States, Congress established the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as part of the sweeping CARES Act legislation designed to provide relief from the worst economic impacts of the pandemic.
Although not all providers of community-based supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have qualified for the forgivable PPP loans (currently, they are restricted to organizations with 500 or fewer employees), one agency that has been able to leverage them is United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia and South Carolina.
Laura Heise, the agency’s Chief Financial Officer, attests that from start to finish, PPP has made all the difference in the world as she and her colleagues work to manage through the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning, “our relationship with SunTrust Bank granted us access to the PPP portal, and we were able to submit our applications without any issues or delays. The portal was fairly easy to use,” Heise explains.
Not long after applying, UCP of Georgia and South Carolina was approved for millions in economic relief to help them continue paying their employees—which was essential considering how service disruptions triggered by the pandemic inflicted significant damage to the agency’s revenues.
Heise went on to explain that the application process, though somewhat cumbersome, was actually really helpful in the organization’s ability to demonstrate financial need. “Because we received more than $2 million, we had to complete more documentation and upload that to the portal so it could be forwarded to the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA form allowed for a lot of narrative, which I found particularly helpful because as a nonprofit, our situation was unique.”
While many nonprofits have struggled during the pandemic, agencies like Heise’s that serve people with IDD have been in a particularly precarious situation. “We house and serve people with disabilities, so we’re not like other businesses that could just close their doors. We needed to stay open, which presented significant staffing challenges during the pandemic. Without those PPP funds we likely could not have incentivized the staff enough to continue coming to work.”
Despite the immense value of PPP and federal programs like it, the program has not been without its challenges. One such challenge is the disparity in how the program is administered in different states. Because Heise’s organization operates in both Georgia and in South Carolina, she and her colleagues saw first-hand how this challenge played out—and continues to have an adverse impact. In Georgia, PPP funds were distributed quickly and without much hassle because the agency is a direct provider of Medicaid services. However, in South Carolina, the agency is funded indirectly by Medicaid, with funding passing through the state’s billing entity. As a result, Heise explained, it took a bit of extra work to get that application through the process.
Beyond challenges in the application process, there have been disparities in the receipt of funding. When Heise applied for a new round of federal funding, the process was much easier but the outcome was different: UCP’s Georgia operation got funded but its South Carolina operation did not. “There was no real explanation for why our South Carolina operation couldn’t get funding other than inadequate money to go around.”
“More transparency in this process would have been appreciated,” Heise continued. “We were lucky to have access to these funds and they were and continue to be desperately needed to ensure the stability and security of our workforce and the individuals we serve and support.”
The experience of UCP of Georgia and South Carolina, though important, is not unique. Unfortunately, hundreds if not thousands of IDD service providers across the country have been grateful for the federal relief that has enabled them to keep their doors open. At the same time, challenges related to access to funding—as well as the fact that even readily available funding cannot make up for the significant losses providers have faced—continue to demonstrate the need for further support from federal and state governments.