ST. CLOUD — It costs twice as much to serve kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The clubs used to spend $1,000 per youth for a year and now the price is more than $2,000 a year, according to a fact sheet from the Central Minnesota clubs.
In the pandemic, the local Boys & Girls Clubs stay busy serving twice as many meals each month, serving kids in-person, in smaller groups and offering virtual programs.
"Thank you for holding it together through all this," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar on a Wednesday tour of the Southside Boys & Girls Club in St. Cloud.
Klobuchar has a bill drafted to aid non-profits like Boys & Girls Clubs and allow them to hire people who are out of work due to the pandemic. The policy is something like the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, she said after the tour. It's called the Work Opportunities and Resources to Keep Nonprofit Organizations Well (WORK NOW) Act.
"We know we're going to get through this," Klobuchar said. "But in the meantime we have a lot of people with needs. So maybe we should be actually investing more in nonprofits so that they can keep their people on, and those people can help other people."
Klobuchar and three other Democratic Senators introduced the policy in May, according to a press release from her office. It would create a major grant program with up to $50 billion to help nonprofits scale up their services and add new jobs.
Klobuchar said Wednesday that she's worked on the proposal with the Boys & Girls Clubs as well as Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity.
Nonprofits have been able to get PPP loans through the Paycheck Protection Program which was aimed at small businesses, Klobuchar said. But that program needs to be re-authorized again. Re-authorization was included in the HEROES Act — a COVID relief package that passed through the Democratically-led House. And re-authorization is also part of a smaller proposal in the works by Senate Republicans, according to a Tuesday report from ABC News.
Klobuchar has also been working on some policies to expand broadband access across the country, a problem that COVID-19 has magnified, she said.
"This area is about the same as the rest of the state, 10% to 15% of kids don't have access to high speed internet," Klobuchar said. "You're going to have a completely unfair situation, because some kids are going to be able to do their online learning and some kids aren't."
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota staff witnessed the challenges of e-learning for kids when providing virtual homework help. The clubs are trying to increase their bandwidth so more kids can log in.
The clubs developed new virtual programs for kids during the pandemic, and those are here to stay.
"We don't think that will ever go away," said Deb Nebosis, direct of development for the Central Minnesota clubs, about virtual programming. "We'll just continue to grow that program."
Before the pandemic, those clubs served 6,500 kids. When schools closed they pivoted to provide emergency care for 462 children of essential workers. They expect to serve 991 this fall and to continue providing 20,000 meals a week.
Klobuchar told Boys & Girls Club staff she's glad to provide some support.
"I wish we could do more," she said.