In this Sept. 16, 2021, file photo, Karleigh Farrington of Rumford, who is currently one of five residents at Breaking the Cycle in Millinocket, speaks at a press conference at Merchants Plaza. A coalition of Bangor-area organizations are asking that local leaders consider using federal funds toward addressing substance use disorder. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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Jennifer Hutchins is the executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits. Jeanette Andre is the executive director of the Maine Philanthropy Center.

Six months after its enactment, state and municipal governments are making important decisions regarding spending American Rescue Plan Act funds. For Maine’s counties alone, about $260 million in federal stimulus will be distributed. This is a one-time windfall, and a transformational opportunity for our state.

As leaders of the Maine Association of Nonprofits and the Maine Philanthropy Center, we offer the support and resources of the nonprofit and philanthropic communities as we navigate this critical path toward recovery.

Since 1994, the association’s mission has been to strengthen the leadership, voice and organizational effectiveness of Maine nonprofits. We have grown into the state’s largest network of organizations dedicated to the common good with more than 1000 nonprofit members and 160 partners in government, business and philanthropy, representing every county in Maine and the full range of nonprofit missions and sizes.

The Maine Philanthropy Center is a regional association of grantmakers — small and large private foundations, community foundations, public foundations, corporate giving programs, family foundations and philanthropic individuals — who share a commitment to increasing the vitality and visibility of Maine’s philanthropy community. We see diversity, equity and inclusion as imperative to success, and we operate with accountability and responsiveness.

In response to COVID-19, Maine’s nonprofits and philanthropic sector stepped up without hesitation to serve our communities. By increasing services, modifying existing programs, creating new ones and delivering information in ways we’ve never had to before, we were essential partners in Maine’s response.

We encourage all government leaders and stakeholders to continue this collaboration as they determine the distribution of relief funding. Partnerships with Maine’s nonprofits will allow for funding to be distributed effectively and efficiently, leveraging resources, relationships and strengths to serve communities even better.

Additionally, nonprofits are perfectly positioned to maximize public benefits with our deep knowledge of community needs, reach and existing relationships, particularly in low-income and underserved or hard-to-reach populations.

Specifically, we encourage you to continue connecting with nonprofit leaders and executives in your communities. As economic drivers, employers of a significant portion of the workforce, and vital partners for essential services addressing community needs, they can offer a unique perspective. While the spending decisions will ultimately be yours to make, we respectfully encourage you to include input from community stakeholders from business and nonprofit leaders to local officials and activists as a part of your ongoing process.

Additionally, we ask that decision-makers apply lessons learned throughout the crisis and to prioritize equity from the outset to end the many inequities in access to and delivery of health and human services that were more fully exposed by the pandemic.

Ultimately, we believe that counties should balance investments in water, sewer and broadband with the public good and community well-being. Our neighbors are still facing challenging times and we must invest in both our social and our traditional infrastructure.

We’re encouraged by the good work that is already underway. Cumberland County is accepting community submissions to fund projects, prioritizing solutions that address affordable housing, infrastructure, health care, workforce training and homelessness. Aroostook County has named its relief fund manager and is funding that position both through the county budget, but also by towns and municipalities who value this role in an ongoing partnership.

The funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026, giving all counties ample time to dig in and create the partnerships required to secure the greatest impact for the public good.

Maine’s nonprofits and philanthropies have always been at the forefront of community reforms and are ready to assist in this effort. Our county officials are ready to manage these funds with the oversight and care necessary. Let’s take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back stronger than before.