Agency Needs Assessment


Since the beginning of the pandemic, the agencies WUIP has worked with have been working to meet the needs of thousands of Bergen County women whose lives have been acutely impacted by the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. From combating widespread jobs loss, food insecurity, evictions, and debt accumulation, these agencies have been working on the front lines to serve women in need.

As we enter the 2021 grants cycle, the grants team has been working to keep a pulse on the needs of these agencies so that we can help them to best serve the women of Bergen County.

Operating vs. Program

One of our first considerations was the current financial stability of the agencies and whether they have the capacity to launch new programs or are still in need of general operations funding to sustain their organizations.

In 2020, we had moved away from our traditional focus on funding innovative programs in order to provide much needed operations funding to keep agencies stay afloat. We were able to provide $90,000 in COVID-19 emergency assistance split amongst 12 agencies.

Agencies have responded that general operating funds are beneficial because they allow them to apply funding directly where it is needed. These smaller gifts can enrich an existing budget and replace lost funding sources.

On the other hand, agencies noted that receiving a large program grant can be life changing. This funding can facilitate the creation of an entire program and provide the resources to staff it. This grants them the flexibility to pursue new service opportunities to meet emerging community needs.

Of the agencies that I spoke with, all but one felt that they would be able to propose an impactful and innovative program for our grants cycle. The agency that was unready to transition back into program development stated that they are still working to address the immediate needs of those struggling to secure food and shelter. As a result, they were unsure if they would be able to propose a program to specifically serve women. In their work with the homeless, they felt that there was currently a need for generalized programs also serving men as other social services are directed towards homeless women and girls.


This type of feedback is helpful because it provides us with the opportunity to adjust our focus to ensure that our grant funding properly aligns with the needs of women during this unprecedented time.

Financial Impacts and Employment

31% of lower-income adults in the US report that their financial situation is worse than before the pandemic.  While the COVID-19 crisis has impacted Americans across every racial, social, and political line, in many ways, women have been hit the hardest in terms of mental health, lost wages, jobs, and the burden of care.

Nearly 52% of all essential workers are women (Robertson and Gebeloff, 2021). This includes 77% of health care workers, 78% of social workers and more than 2/3 of grocery store and fast-food employees (Robertson and Gebeloff, 2021).  This has put women on the frontlines of the pandemic. According to the CDC, women make-up 73% of the health care workers who have been infected with COVID-19.

Across the board, women are still paid less than their male counterparts and hold fewer upper management positions. Before the pandemic, women had been slowly progressing within the workplace. The representation of women in senior-vice-president positions had increased to 28 percent, and in the C-suite positions to 21 percent. However, the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment.

In September 2021, more than 300,000 women in the US left the workforce. More than 26,000 jobs were lost in September 2021 for women, while men gained 220,000 jobs. The labor participation rate in the US is still 1.7% lower than before the pandemic in February 2020, including nearly 1.6 million mothers with children under the age of 17 who dropped out of the work force and have not returned (Sainato, 2021).

This is concerning because New Jersey Census data has shown us that 24.43% of unemployed females live in poverty, compared to only 5.04% of employed females (US Census Bureau, 2019). Education level is also correlated. In New Jersey, over 33% of people with a high school level of education or less live in poverty,  compared to 7.53% of those who have completed some college and  3.42% of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (US Census Bureau, 2019).

When we spoke with agencies, they emphasized the importance of increasing resources for women’s career pathways. By providing job training, they can increase their job security and increase wages and benefits. One of the new needs identified is to teach women new technical skills to help them pivot into remote work opportunities.

Child care

One of the major needs that our agencies have reported is an increased need for childcare. Because women disproportionately bear the burden of caring for children, unmet childcare needs are one of the major obstacles that force women to leave the workforce. During the pandemic, when schools transitioned to virtual learning and statewide 1 in 3 childcare providers closed their doors, many mothers made the difficult decision to leave their job to care for their children at home.

In New Jersey, the cost of childcare rose by 66% during the pandemic with the average cost per child coming to $20,130 per year (Workman and Howard, 2020). In Bergen County, the median monthly cost for childcare is $1,300.

In New Jersey, single parents pay 49.4% of their income for infant childcare. The annual price of childcare for 2 children would cost a married-couple family living at or below the federal poverty line over 100% of annual household income (Economic Policy Institute, 2020). High costs of childcare are a financial burden and often outpace women’s salary, forcing them to make the decision to stay home rather than pay for care.

To address this issue, some agencies have made the decision to expand their services to include day care and early childhood education programs. Investing in childcare is job-enabling and job-creating, by allowing parents to go to their much-needed jobs, and by investing in a career and better wages for care workers.

Domestic violence

Emerging data shows a deeply concerning trend: COVID-19 is driving a spike in domestic violence and is being compounded by money, health and security stresses, crowded homes and reduced peer support. High rates of job loss means that for many women work no longer provides respite, meanwhile heightened economic insecurity makes it more difficult for them to leave. In addition, social and physical isolation has weakened women’s access to resources and social support networks.

One of the agencies that we work with experienced a 46% increase in domestic violence hotline calls. However, 40% of women who experience violence do not seek help. One of the biggest challenges that they are facing is reaching women so that they can be connected to available resources.

Food Insecurity

Prior to the pandemic, food insecurity rates in the United States were at their lowest rate in 20 years. However, financial insecurity and food scarcity issues during the pandemic caused these rates to increase across the county. New Jersey had the highest percent increase in food insecurity of any state. In Bergen County food insecurity rates increased by 62% between 2019 and 2020, with childhood food insecurity increasing by 147% (Kaiser Health News, 2021).  Bergen County has the 2nd and 3rd highest rates of increase, respectively, in the state. This rate of increase in NJ was only surpassed by Somerset (64%) and Atlantic (69%) counties (Kaiser Health News, 2021).  Local government decision-makers in Bergen County currently estimate that up to 20,000+ residents per week rely upon donated food (Bergen County Food Security Task Force, 2021). 

Many of the agencies are responding to this immediate need by providing grocery store gift cards, prepared meals, and food pantry access.

Mental Health & Support Services

Women’s mental health has also suffered as a result of the pandemic. A recent study found that women were more likely to have experienced higher levels of psychological distress resulting from the pandemic. Women with children reported the highest rates of distress, at 34%, followed by 30% for women without children (Miller, 2020). Rates for men were lower, at 19% (Miller, 2020). Because women represent the majority of the health workforce, they have been at a greater risk for COVID-19 and the emotional toll it comes with it. In addition, quarantine and social distancing has reduced social networks and increased isolation, leading to increased rates of anxiety & depression.

Several of the agencies we spoke with noted an increased need for mental health services both virtually and in person.

In addition, two agencies noted that there is a gap in service for meeting the needs of aging women. Because women tend to live longer than men, they can find themselves alone, financially restricted, and without community support. These agencies felt that creating support groups for older women would help to reduce isolation and increase community connectedness & wellness.

Challenges with Service Provision

Agencies have also experienced new challenges with providing services. They have had to adapt their programs to fit into a newly virtual world. One of the questions that they posed was whether virtual programs and support groups provide women with the same connection as in-person options. With this in mind, they can make decisions to expand virtual options or focus their efforts on facilitating smaller groups in person.

Service provision has also been made more expensive due to the increased costs of supplies and unanticipated shortages. One agency highlighted the impact of diaper shortages on young mothers.

These agencies are also dealing with increased staffing costs + hazard pay. This increases their costs per unit of service. However, some of these agencies noted the importance of continued employment. One in particular noted an effort within their organization to employ those who were financially struggling, especially seniors and young mothers.

The pandemic has created a precarious situation for our system of care.  People and agencies are now more vulnerable than ever to unexpected challenges. Hurricane Ida was a clear demonstration of this.

After the storm hit, one agency had to quickly respond to a sudden housing crisis as the hurricane flooded a senior center, causing a full evacuation of the residents, 90% of whom are women. In addition, one agency is still recovering from flooding damage to their facility as a result of hurricane Ida.

Funding Focus:

One of the goals of the grants committee is to ensure that our focus areas account for the current needs of our community.

2019 funding priorities: Health, Job Training and Placement, Housing, and Crisis Assistance.

Below is the proposed funding focuses for Women United in Philanthropy’s 2021 grants cycle:

Health & Wellness – This includes specialized programs that meet the health and wellness needs of women or their children, including addressing physical and mental illness, improving support systems, addressing threats to their safety including domestic violence, and providing access to affordable preventative care or treatment options.

Career Advancement, Job Training & Placement –Includes programs that advance women’s education and career with the goal of helping women to earn a living wage and improve their overall financial situation. Strategies includes job training and placement, expanding educational opportunities, helping women to seek and retain employment, and creating career pathways and supports.

Safe & Affordable Housing – includes programs that provide women and their children with secure and affordable housing. This includes aid for securing permanent housing, emergency rental and eviction assistance, and sheltering displaced women and their children.

Food Security – Includes programs fighting hunger and food insecurity by providing women and their children with reliable access to nutritious and affordable food. This also includes solutions that promote self-sufficiency and address the systemic conditions that limit access to adequate food resources.

Child Care – includes programs that provide reliable and affordable childcare options to enable women’s workforce participation. This also includes programs that assist mother’s in balancing childcare costs and offer early education opportunities for their children.

Stay Connected