Will stimulus trigger charitable trickle effect in Gold Coast CT?

Photo of Alexander Soule

It is an annual harbinger of spring in Fairfield County, a “Giving Day” that raises significant amounts for family assistance programs and other charities.

With the United States on the brink of a historic, one-time payout to citizens, will Connecticut’s biggest block of charitable donors step up once more?

It is a question top of mind for many in Gold Coast Connecticut, as the U.S. Treasury limbers up its printing presses to crank out baseline checks of $2,400 for a majority of the nation’s households and $500 extra for each child, a critical infusion for many who have seen their incomes stripped by furloughs or ebbing business otherwise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Thursday on the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform online, more than 22,000 fundraising efforts globally mentioned coronavirus, including dozens in Connecticut ranging from Stamford Health’s coronavirus relief fund; to an effort to assist Danbury restaurants forced to limit service to takeout and delivery; to a Bridgeport yoga studio sweating out an executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont for exercise facilities to close.

In the stimulus hammered out this week in Congress, individuals making less than $75,000 will receive the full allotment as will couples with combined income below $150,000, with smaller amounts issued for earners with income up to a third higher.

Statewide in Connecticut in 2017, the Internal Revenue Service reported about 200,000 couples having joint income between $100,000 and $200,000 — creating the possibility of as much as $400 million or more arriving in April for that segment alone of Connecticut earners.

Of that set of stimulus money recipients, many have socked away sufficient assets over a lifetime of earnings to ride out the crisis in relative peace of mind financially.

And as it happens, those who earn between $100,000 and $200,000 in Connecticut represented the biggest block of donors in 2017, accounting for a third of all IRS filers in the state listing charitable contributions that year.

As a group, those filers gave away $611 million in 2017, averaging to donations of $2,800 a piece — roughly in line with what many households will be getting from the U.S. Treasury next month depending on income and family size.

For many more of the some 1.3 million Connecticut earners with income below the $75,000 individual earnings threshold that triggers the full Treasury payment, circumstances range between worrisome and dire as the days crawl toward the first Treasury payments, and other stimulus money hits the street in the form of bank loans, unemployment assistance and industry bailouts.

As individuals and organizations with a history of giving get a better grasp in the coming weeks of how the economic outlook is shaking out, a better picture will emerge on the impact on philanthropy.

The 2018 stock market decline did not dent charitable giving among donors tracked by the Fairfield-based asset manager Foundation Source, but the longer-term impact of the interruption to global commerce caused by coronavirus is still unknown.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is among the organizations that is now soliciting funds from donors to steer to area charity organizations that in turn support local families. The fund accumulated commitments of $1 million over the course of several days, with an anonymous donor pledging to match contributions of at least $10,000 as a way to boost giving.

Only last month, the Norwalk-based foundation helped Connecticut nonprofits raise more than $1.6 million over 24 hours on Feb. 27 as part of the Fairfield County’s Giving Day marathon.

Foundation CEO Juanita James said she has no idea whether some of the Treasury stimulus money heading to Connecticut will be paid forward by their recipients to nonprofits or individuals most in need, but said the need will be acute.

“That’s one scenario and we would like to say that ... as people recognize the severity of the impact on people who are most affected, that [donors] will stretch themselves to be as generous as they possibly can,” James said. “Around the state, you see a very significant early response. ... As things get closer and closer to home, will people be able to sustain that level of generosity?”

Includes prior reporting by Emilie Munson.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman