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Adam Minsky is president and CEO of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Yair Szlak is the CEO of Federation CJA in Montreal. Ezra Shanken is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the lives of Canadians at a devastating pace that few predicted. With all this uncertainty thrust upon us, one thing has become clear: navigating this challenge will require an approach that involves everyone. We need each other today more than ever.

The federal and provincial governments have taken crucial first steps, announcing actions to address the acute health, safety and economic needs of Canadians. These measures are critically important, and we applaud them. But there is another dimension to the challenge that must be addressed immediately to ensure those who need help receive it as quickly and effectively as possible.

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As the CEOs of Jewish Federations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, we are part of a continuum of social services provided to individuals and families of all ages, supporting them to live healthy and productive lives. As such, we have a rare perspective from which to observe many charitable and social services, all of which nurture and protect Canada’s most vulnerable: the elderly, people with disabilities, victims of violence, the socially isolated, those facing food insecurity, those struggling with mental illness and those who are homeless. Meeting the needs of these populations during the best of times is an enormous challenge.

And these are certainly not the best of times. All Canadians have become vulnerable, and the demands on our system are increasing daily.

The charitable sector is well-positioned to help vulnerable segments of our society and thus serve as an integral part of the solution. Not-for-profits can often function where government agencies cannot. They can help people governments do not, or cannot, reach. And – equipped largely with courage, dedication and generosity – they can do it well with modest means.

To help navigate this once-in-a-generation challenge, however, the not-for-profit sector needs urgent help.

Social-service agencies, faith-based groups, charities and civil-society organizations of all stripes have both unique expertise and direct access to otherwise isolated segments of Canadian society. We have established trust with the people we serve and can play an immediate and vital role in easing the pain so many Canadians are facing. We can co-ordinate and mobilize volunteers. We can get information and needed supplies to the people we serve. We can provide hope.

Our country is stronger because of the network of charities that help make our society a safer, more compassionate place. In good times and in bad, they are an essential part of Canada’s social safety net.

However, to fulfill this vital role in the coming days, not-for-profits are going to need additional support from government to supplement the generosity of individual Canadian donors. Demands for our services are increasing at the exact moment the cost of providing those services is increasing. Canadians are generous, but they cannot be expected to shoulder this burden alone.

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We call on all levels of government to immediately increase investment in the non-profit sector so we can do our part to address this enormous challenge. Strategic investment in our sector will have a profound impact on the challenges Canadian society faces now and in the future.

In addition to helping the vulnerable, we can slow the spread, we can share information, we can provide comfort, and we can significantly ease the burden on governments. We can also help Canadians get back on their feet when the current crisis begins to subside.

The charitable sector must be included in the economic stimulus packages announced by all levels of government. A significant portion of the money should be directed to this sector – which is, now more than ever, essential.

Governments can take immediate, practical steps to help us, such as creating a stabilization fund for charities, ensuring charities and non-profits are eligible for stimulus funding, providing access to emergency business loans, and introducing a program to subsidize salaries for non-profits up to 100 per cent of the maximum EI and CPP benefits. Governments can also enhance the charitable-donation tax credits and create a matching fund to encourage charitable giving.

The next few weeks will be critical, and the time to act is now. As we enter this uncharted territory, we will all benefit from a healthy charitable sector to address immediate needs and, after the pandemic, stand ready to rebuild.

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