A recent change in the American Rescue Plan allows veterans organizations and other 501(c)(19) organizations to receive up to $10,000 each in special pandemic loan and grant assistance from the federal government.
The original bill, signed in March 2021, listed financial assistance in the form of loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofits without specifying who qualified. Veterans organizations, however, were unable to receive funds because of their particular tax-exempt status.
While American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts are listed as 501(c)(19), the previous ARPA only provided benefits for organizations designated as 501(c)(3). This left out other groups such as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, 501(c)(7) social clubs, 501(c)(8) fraternal beneficiary societies and 501(c)(10) domestic fraternal societies.
“This is amazing,” said Pete Wenninger, the commander of East Meadow American Legion Post 1082 of the recent ARPA change. “This could bring new life to my veterans hall, to our membership and our community outreach program.”
The change was formally made by the federal government in March, according to County Legislators Steve Rhoads and Tom McKevitt. But McKevitt said that it took time to make the change in the Legislature, and the change was passed at the April 25 meeting. “It’s one thing for the feds to allow it,” McKevitt said. “But it’s the county legislature that has to implement it and allow the administration to actually authorize that money to be used.”
“We will be providing funding to veterans halls to keep them open,” County Executive Bruce Blakeman said at the April 11 legislative session, according to the meeting minutes. “Our veterans served us, they protected us and the least we can do is help these veteran halls remain open and vital. Veteran halls are the foundation of our community.”
Wenninger said that he was worried that the money would be used only for Covid-related projects such as new ventilation systems to keep the air clean in the hall, but McKevitt said that is not the case. “[The money] is really tied to the fact that during 2020, veterans’ halls had significant losses because they weren’t able to rent out their halls,” McKevitt said. “At this stage we can get them $10,000 but there could be room for more as the administration looks at what to do with the extra Covid funds.”
A covered patio, a new parking lot, a membership drive and handicap accessible bathrooms are some of the projects that Wenninger said he would consider for use of the Covid money.
A lot of his own time and labor has gone into the Post 1082 hall located on Bellmore Road but the extra funds would really give Wenninger the leg up to complete more projects.
“I’m starving here,” Wenninger said. “I do parades here, I do 100-year-old birthday celebrations, I do funerals and they’re not even my members. They’re my community.”
Rhoads said the Legislature was planning on doing regional workshops to help veterans organizations fill out any paperwork needed to qualify for the funds. “There’s a lot of crossing t’s and dropping i’s and we have old guys and people that work and are still working and raising families,” Wenninger said. “They don’t have the time for aggravation of the government paperwork.”
It wasn’t easy to get the ARPA guidelines to change, McKevitt said. A letter sent to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer back in June from Presiding Officer of the Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello on behalf of the Republican majority asking that the “narrow definition” of nonprofits be modified in ARPA got no response.
“We just kept pushing and pushing and heard nothing is response until they changed the rule,” McKevitt said. “And frankly that’s how the feds operate. You push and push and hope that it happens and in this case we’re very grateful that it did.”