Some stimulus fund recipients say they don't urgently need the money. Instead of putting it into savings accounts, they've decided to give it away.
Jessica Sheng was surprised to see $1,200 appear in her bank account last week, even though she'd heard all about the federal stimulus package. The 26-year-old considers herself "extremely privileged" — she has a full-time job at a digital agency and no major life expenses other than rent for her Logan Circle apartment.
Instead of putting the money into savings, Sheng decided to give it away. "I wanted to have a sense of putting my money where my mouth is," she says.
She spent about a quarter of the money supporting local restaurants, bookstores and small business owners like her longtime hairdresser. Then she asked her followers on Instagram for recommendations of local nonprofits or causes to support. She inputted her friends' suggestions into a spreadsheet and studied each organization's mission.
Eventually, she landed on 10 local recipients, including the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, Miriam's Kitchen, Street Sense Media and Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
As unemployment numbers continue to grow during the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are relying on government aid to pay for rent, food or other pressing expenses. But not everyone who received stimulus money needs it in the same way. (Individuals making $75,000 or less and couples making $150,000 or less received $1,200 per person, plus an additional $500 for each dependent child.)
This stimulus money is meant to be spent, not saved. That's why some Washingtonians have decided to donate their checks to organizations and fundraisers helping people facing immediate financial crises.
"We felt obligated to pay it forward," says Emily, a Ward 4 resident who declined to give her last name so she could speak candidly about personal finances.
Emily and her husband have stable jobs in the legal and lobbying industries, respectively. They donated their $2,400 to organizations that they feel help people "in dire need": The East of the River Mutual Aid Fund, the Greater DC Diaper Bank, So Others Might Eat (SOME), Bread for the City and the Capital Area Food Bank. The $500 they received for their son went into his savings account.
Petworth resident Jordan Stoner decided to donate most of their stimulus check because they've already been saving more than normal. Their job at the Legal Aid Society of Washington D.C. allows them to work at home, which means no more commuting expenses or meals out with coworkers and friends.
Stoner donated all but $100 of their check to a half dozen local organizations that support LGBTQ youth, undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable communities, including No Justice No Pride, HIPS and Casa Ruby. They used the remaining $100 to cover a personal medical bill.
Susanna Beiser, a magazine editor in Cleveland Park, says she's also been spending less money than usual. She split her $1,200 stimulus check between four organizations: the Ward 3 Mutual Aid Network, a fund for recently arrived immigrant families, another fund for local professional singers and a national relief fund organized by Crooked Media.
Other stimulus recipients feel as though they stumbled into qualifying and didn't feel right keeping the money. D.C. lawyer Scott Garfing is among them. His economic situation has improved drastically since last year: He was in law school for most of 2019 but now has a lucrative career at a Washington law firm.
"I wasn't the intended beneficiary of the stimulus bill," Garfing says. "I wouldn't have felt good keeping the money." He donated half of his check to the Capital Area Food Bank and divided the rest among a bail fund in New York City, DC SAFE, and large tips for food delivery workers.
Garfing assumes many people in his network have also received stimulus checks, but he's only talked about his donations with two close friends. "You just don't know everyone's financial situation," he says. He doesn't want anyone to feel like he's pressuring them to do what he did.
Individual donations won't be enough to mitigate the long-term financial impact of coronavirus on the region. Still, nonprofit leaders and organizers of charitable funds say they've been blown away by the levels of generosity they've seen since stimulus money started hitting Washington area bank accounts.
"We've seen a huge uptick since the stimulus money was released," said Tonia Wellons, the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Their coronavirus response fund has made more than $3.2 million in grants to local organizations since March 13.
Wellons has a few suggestions for those people who plan to donate their stimulus checks or other funds but are new to charitable giving:
- Make your gift for general operating support rather than a specific program. That allows the organization's leaders to decide how to use the money themselves.
- Give locally or hyper-locally. You can better identify need priorities in cities or neighborhoods you're familiar with.
- Before donating, check an organization's credibility with a quick search on Guidestar.
- Support pop-up fundraising efforts in your neighborhood like food drives or mutual aid networks.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe collecting stimulus money and redistributing it to undocumented immigrants has raised more than $337,000 since it launched on April 5. The fundraiser will remain open for the length of time that people are still receiving stimulus checks. The money will be disbursed equally among a group of local organizations like Sanctuary DMV, Many Languages One Voice, LaColectiVA, Justice for Muslims Collective and Restaurant Opportunities Center DC.
And as more and more people receive their checks, more and more conversations about where to donate the money keep cropping up. A few days ago, a D.C. resident posted on NextDoor asking for suggestions of organizations in need. More than 45 people have responded with ideas so far.