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Minnesota nonprofits bracing for deeper financial woes in 2021 are pleading for more help from government leaders.

By the end of December, Patrick Rowan will have exhausted $4 million that Metro Meals on Wheels received in emergency federal aid, preventing layoffs and buying extra food for the growing number of Minnesotans in need of help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We don't know what we're going to do January 1," said Rowan, who runs the association that represents 32 Meals on Wheels programs in the Twin Cities, adding that he will either have to turn away people in need of help or go bankrupt.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar urged support for a measure she introduced in May that would create a $50 billion grant program for nonprofits. With the year winding down, she said it's crucial to bolster support for organizations on the front lines of the growing hunger crisis.

"Need is soaring," she said. "When you look at the numbers, it's pretty extraordinary."

In Minnesota, 5,300 nonprofits — more than half of those in the state — received forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal CARES Act, according to a new report from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Another $12 million in CARES funding will go out this week to more than 200 hunger-relief nonprofits, totaling $21 million this year from the federal aid. But the money has to be spent by Dec. 31, and some of Minnesota's largest social services nonprofits were disqualified from the federal loans because they have more than 500 employees.

"Programs after December 31 are out of money and that means people are out of food," said Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions, a statewide advocacy organization that has urged Congress to pass another COVID-19 relief package before January.

Statewide, many food shelves are serving double or triple the number of people they did before the pandemic and spending more money on extra vehicles to deliver food, sanitizing equipment and freezers to store meals.

In Minneapolis, Community Emergency Service (CES) got $124,000 in a Paycheck Protection Program loan and some CARES Act funding to buy a new truck to deliver meals to seniors and people with disabilities. The nonprofit, which runs the state's largest Meals on Wheels program, also had an unexpected boost in money from foundations last summer.

"Now it's kind of leveling out," said Chris Nelson, the development director, adding that he's not raising alarms yet, but "I'm not sure what the future holds."

While additional government aid is uncertain, donors and foundations are giving more in 2020. Last week, the annual Give to the Max Day smashed records, drawing more than $30 million for schools and nonprofits. More than $160,000 has also come in so far for Thursday's Walk to End Hunger, which is raising money for Meals on Wheels and eight other hunger relief organizations.

At Metro Meals on Wheels, the number of individual donations this year has doubled, and the organization, which has a $4 million annual budget, also had a record Give to the Max Day. But Rowan said Meals on Wheels is also serving more people, with a 400% increase in services since October.

"We're really seeing this all over the country," Klobuchar said of the hunger crisis.

Her bill, the WORK NOW Act, would require nonprofits to use most of a grant for employee compensation, aiming to keep nonprofit workers employed like the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed Americans on environmental projects.

Nonprofits employ about 14% of Minnesota's workforce. From March to September, 40% of nonprofit employees filed unemployment claims after furloughs, layoffs or seeing their hours reduced.

Klobuchar's bill has only Democratic support so far. A House companion bill introduced in July by California Rep. Linda Sánchez also has only Democratic support, including Minnesota Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips.

"It may be something we'll just have to keep working on into the new year with the new president," Klobuchar said of her bill. "Honestly it may be very hard to get it into this end-of-year package."

But she added that she hopes to push for support for nonprofits in a broader pandemic relief package.

"My goal is not to come home until we have this done," she said at a news conference in Dakota County. "We simply have to get another pandemic relief package done."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141