Looking Back to Look Forward

Much will be made this week about the Biden Administration hitting its first 100 days in office. If what I read on the CNN website is to be taken as “gospel,” the tradition of measuring a new president’s progress, or success, after the first 100 days in office began after FDR assumed the presidency.

While 100 days amount to only about 8% of the time of a two-term presidency, it can provide a useful window into where an administration will focus, what battles it will take on, and how it thinks about the relationships that will be most critical to getting “stuff” done. With this frame in mind, here are a few thoughts on what we are seeing in the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration, and what the implications might be for the charitable nonprofit sector.

Go bold and focus on execution. Whether we are looking at the American Rescue Plan (perhaps the last of the targeted COVID-19 relief bills), the American Jobs Plan, or the soon to be released American Families Plan, the Administration is seeking to tackle big issues – many of them, like racism, at a systemic level – with significant program and policy proposals and price tags to match. The American Rescue Plan, the only one of the three to have, thus far, moved successfully through Congress, is now in execution phase. The Administration has made clear to Independent Sector that it is looking to nonprofits as a critical partner in the rapid and successful implementation of many of the key provisions of the American Rescue Plan. In our April 8 convening with the White House, attended by Rep. Cedric Richmond (Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement) and Gene Sperling (selected by President Biden to oversee implementation of the American Rescue Plan), we focused on four areas where the sector is playing that critical role: emergency housing assistance; equitable vaccine distribution; broadband access in Native communities; and new models of national service to deliver community services. We look forward to continuing our work with the White House to build this partnership – and these convenings – so, together, we can go further and faster in ensuring an equitable recovery through the rollout of the American Rescue Plan.

Infrastructure is about more than roads and bridges. When, just about one year ago, Independent Sector began work with KABOOM! to launch the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG), we were a “voice in the wilderness,” making the case that infrastructure investments and policy needed to focus not only on roads and bridges, but also on our civic infrastructure – the norms, practices, and nonprofit structures that allow communities to come together to solve problems and build communities where all people can thrive. One year later, we are not alone in making that case. The infrastructure debate now includes many of the core priorities laid out in the recently updated NIIAG policy agenda, such as efforts to rethink how we address issues like child care, climate change, and clean drinking water. There is an enormous amount of work yet to do to move the NIIAG agenda forward, and we are far from guaranteed success on the whole of it. But the Biden Administration, through its actions, has helped open the aperture on the debate about how we think about infrastructure in this nation. We believe that to be a good thing for the nation, for the sector, and, most importantly, for the communities we serve.

Tax policy still matters – a lot. As noted above, big policies take big dollars and the Administration is moving forward with proposals to restructure tax policies as one means of paying for its agenda. As it became clear that a key plank in the Administration’s tax plan was to propose a 28% cap on the value of itemized deductions, Independent Sector quickly and clearly indicated to the Administration, and specifically in a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen, that this proposed cap must “carve out” the charitable deduction – as the Obama-Biden Administration suggested in its “Buffet Rule” proposal to ensure that charities had the resources needed to deliver the vital services communities need. While, as of this writing, we are still awaiting final word on where the Administration will land on this critically important tax policy issue, we are deeply gratified that the Administration is listening to our case and, indeed, invited Independent Sector and several of our members into a dialogue with Treasury leadership a few weeks ago. The value of constructive engagement cannot be over-estimated.

Partnerships require presence and are built for the long haul. Circling back to where I started above, right now there is no higher priority than making certain that our sector – trusted, community grounded, and forward positioned – is working side-by-side with the Administration to accelerate successful implementation of the American Rescue Plan. That’s not partisan or political. The plan is law, massive resources are flowing, and the communities we serve desperately need this help. This is our work. As Independent Sector also set out in our proposed Executive Order on Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector and its Partnership with the Federal Government, building a lasting and agile partnership with this, and successive administrations, is critical to making sure the nonprofit sector can be sustained as that robust and trusted accelerant for equitable change. This is long-haul work, not “100-day” work. And we look forward to more conversations with this White House about how we build this partnership and ensure that charities (nonprofits and philanthropy) are “at the table” in policy discussions – much as our peers in the for-profit sector are present – so that, together, we can better serve our respective missions.

As always, thanks for all you do as a leader of the sector, an individual agent of change, or however you see your work in our shared aim of making sure that all people living in the U.S. can thrive. And thanks for spending time with this edition of Voices for Good.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Administration, Civil Society, Community, Congress, COVID-19 Public Policy, COVID-19 Response, Infrastructure, NIIAG, Nonprofit Health, Organizational Relationships, Public Policy, seat4nonprofits, Voices for Good
Policy Issues: Charitable Deduction, Civil Society Infrastructure, Federal Budget & Fiscal Policy