United Way launches $16.5M fund aimed at COVID-19 economic relief

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A coalition of community organizations led by the United Way of Central Indiana announced Friday the creation of a $16.5 million fund for community economic relief for those affected by COVID-19.

The fund will support human service needs during economic distress associated with the novel coronavirus, which has caused temporary closures of schools, businesses and organizations in Indiana.

The fund was announced Friday afternoon during a press conference.

The fund, called the Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund, received a $15 million donation from Lilly Endowment Inc. and a $500,000 contribution from each of the following: Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation and United Way of Central Indiana.

Central Indiana Community Foundation and Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust are also assisting. United Way plans to seek donations from other organizations and individuals in the weeks ahead.

The grants will be distributed to human service organizations in Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Marion and Morgan counties.

Organizers modeled the new fund after the Community Economic Relief Fund, which was established during the Great Recession in 2008. The fund provided similar support for organizations and individuals as the economy recovered.

“This coronavirus is not just a health crisis. It is also an economic one–the depth and magnitude of which is uncertain,” Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana, said in written comments. “The speed with which the virus has spread and the measures necessary to slow its spread and protect global, national and local health continue to significantly disrupt our way of life.”

Indianapolis city leaders said the potential economic impact on central Indiana could be significant, especially for workers in jobs in the service and hospitality industries.

During a press briefing Thursday evening, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he was restricting gatherings to no more than 250 people and directed Marion County schools to close, a step now being taken by many schools across the country.

“I want to be clear that these restrictions will have serious impacts on commerce, social events, and functions planned long in advance or held every year,” Hogsett said. “To those who argue these policies will be disruptive, my answer is simple: they better be. This virus and the threat it poses to our city, state, and country is massive. Left unchecked, it has the potential to wreak untold damage on our families and the very social safety net that protects our most vulnerable residents.”

The network of service providers benefiting from the United Way fund are being “encouraged to work together to find new and innovative ways to incorporate the concept of social distancing into service practices.”

Individuals may donate to the established fund by texting HELP2020 to 91999 or by visiting covid19cerf.org.

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