Opinion by: Tim Cadogan
As Congress debates a new COVID-19 aid package, millions of Americans are struggling to pay for rent, groceries, utilities and medical bills, or to keep their small businesses from shutting down.
We know their needs are both large and urgent because they tell us about them.
Since March, an American has started a COVID-related fundraiser on GoFundMe every two minutes. It’s not something they do lightly. Asking for help is difficult. People do it when their needs are dire and they have nowhere else to turn.
In fact, when the pandemic began, 1 in 3 fundraisers on GoFundMe were related to COVID-19, and the activity has persisted at an alarmingly high rate.
Their pleas have turned GoFundMe into a leading indicator of the biggest pandemic-related hardships. Even before the weekly jobless claims, the monthly unemployment numbers and the quarterly gross domestic product reports tell us the state of the economy, we at GoFundMe learn firsthand about the real struggles Americans face.
Surge of people asking for help
It will surprise no one, then, that in the past year, we’ve seen an unprecedented surge in fundraisers of all kinds, as the economy tanked, millions lost their jobs and nearly 1 in 4 families faced food insecurity.
From March 1 to Aug. 31 alone, people started more than 150,000 fundraisers for COVID-related assistance on our site, and the requests for help have yet to abate. Last month, even after Congress passed a second relief bill in December, the number of new fundraisers on GoFundMe was higher than in May during the first wave of the pandemic.
The situation is nothing short of a national emergency. Congress should treat it as such by quickly passing a large relief bill whose generosity is commensurate with the need.
We’ve known for years that most Americans don’t have $500 to spare to cover unexpected emergencies, like a car breakdown. Now, it’s as if their entire lives are breaking down again and again and again. The scale and variety of the fundraisers we see point to the level of desperation among Americans and give us a window into where the relief could be most helpful.
Monthly bills. In October, after seeing a steady rise in fundraisers from people struggling to pay bills like rent and utilities, we created a new category for those on our site. In just a few months, it has grown into one of the largest categories on the platform, accounting for 13% of fundraisers.
A new round of stimulus checks would help scores of needy families, like that of Martha Zepeda of Houston. While Zepeda, a single mom who has struggled to make ends meet throughout the pandemic, has been out of a job for three months, she didn’t tell her daughter, Alondra Carmona, a high-school senior. By the time Carmona found out earlier this month, they were two months behind on rent and faced a likely eviction in March. Carmona, who has been accepted to prestigious Barnard College, decided to put the entirety of her college savings to support her family. “As much as I dream of going to Barnard College, it is not looking promising right now,” Carmona wrote on GoFundMe, as she sought to raise the money she needs to make that dream a reality.
Restaurants and small businesses. During 2020, fundraisers seeking donations for small businesses — previously a rarity — became commonplace: 3 of every 5 COVID-related fundraisers in the United States sought to support small businesses and their employees, with restaurants alone accounting for tens of thousands of fundraisers. After ebbing during the summer months, fundraisers for struggling restaurants spiked anew toward the end of the year.
Many are small family-owned businesses like Ray’s Ice Cream, which has served its community in Royal Oak, Michigan, for 63 years, employing thousands of local youngsters along the way. Last year, as sales to restaurants flatlined and COVID-19 restrictions forced Ray’s to close, it faced the prospect of having to lay off its employees. “I would love to make payroll for all these great kids that work for me,” owner Tom Stevens wrote on GoFundMe.
Food. It’s no secret that hunger and food insecurity have risen sharply during the pandemic. As millions turned to food banks across the nation, we also saw a sharp increase in fundraisers from people seeking help to cover their next meal. After spiking in April, the fundraisers for food leveled off at rates that are far higher than typical. In January, for example, they were 45% higher than a year earlier.
What’s more, the single largest fundraiser in GoFundMe’s history began in April and has already raised nearly $45 million for America’s Food Fund.
The need to keep helping
These are hardly the only areas of need. We’ve seen high-profile appeals for support for renters facing eviction, front-line workers who need personal protective equipment and a never-ending stream of fundraisers aimed at supporting students, classrooms, charities and more. The surge in these types of fundraisers is a direct result of government programs coming up short.
We are pleased that the fundraisers for Ray’s Ice Cream and Alondra Carmona resonated with the GoFundMe community. Donations to Ray’s topped $78,000, allowing Stevens to make payroll and keep the store open. And in just a few days, Carmona easily surpassed her goal of raising $75,000 so she can pursue her dreams of a STEM education at Barnard.
They’re not alone in benefitting from the kindness of relatives, friends, neighbors and even strangers. Someone makes a donation on GoFundMe every second.
Much of it comes from regular folks: 70% of donations are for less than $50. And we’re stepping up, too, donating millions to family and business relief efforts through our charitable arm.
We are proud of the role that GoFundMe plays in connecting those in need with those who are ready to help. But our platform was never meant to be a source of support for basic needs, and it can never be a replacement for robust federal COVID-19 relief that is generous and targeted to help the millions of Americans who are struggling.
Tim Cadogan is the CEO of GoFundMe.
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