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Respuestas 2021: Direct Cash Assistance Can Help Immigrant Families Struggling to Pay Bills

According to immigrant families across the city, direct cash assistance is essential for them to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Sarah Cartagena, Senior Policy Analyst; and Louisa Silverman, Immigration & Housing Intern

Para leer este artículo de La Raza en español, haga clic aquí.

Many Latino and immigrant families are struggling to recover financially from the damage caused by the pandemic. Even with restrictions loosening and vaccines available, facing the immense economic fallout from COVID-19 can be an uphill battle.

Many of these immigrant families did not qualify for stimulus payments and are ineligible for government “safety net” programs, such as SNAP and unemployment benefits. According to community forums conducted by the Latino Policy Forum, direct cash assistance is key to these families finding hope.

“We are in a hole,” said one community member who participated in the Forum’s research. “If you don’t work for weeks or months, you feel like you're drowning. The assistance pushes us up and helps us gasp for air.”

Emergency rental, mortgage and utility assistance helps families pull through, but they are not always enough. This is particularly true for immigrant families who have taken out loans or borrowed from friends to stay current on rent payments, out of fear of repercussions from landlords. Being current on rent makes them ineligible for state COVID-19 rental assistance.

Other community members have additional financial problems on top of housing. Many need help with phone bills, toiletries, medicine, transportation, and childcare.

Direct cash assistance can fill in this gap. According to Michelle Ramirez of Family-Focus Nuestra Familia Cicero, direct assistance gives people “the agency to decide what they need.” It can ensure that the unique needs of every family are met.  

Previous cash assistance programs specifically for immigrants, such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) COVID-19 Immigrant Family Support Project, quickly handed one-time cash payments to immigrant families who couldn’t qualify for federal relief.

“After not qualifying for so many government programs, I never thought the ICIRR cash assistance would accept my application,” one community member said. “It was so amazing to qualify for this one.”

“I felt a ray of light after applying with Mujeres Latinas en Accion,” said another community member about the direct cash-assistance program by the Chicago-based domestic violence prevention organization. “I was able to get $500 cash assistance, which I really needed to pay a deductible on medication in association with my dialysis.”

Still, community members say that cash assistance needs to be recurring, at least in the short-term, so that they can get out of debt. “The help they give is for things that you are already indebted for, but the needs are accumulating. The help is not constant,” one explained.

Thanks to recent state advocacy efforts, last month, the state legislature directed $30M to support direct cash assistance programs like those by ICIRR and Mujeres Latina so that they can keep offering short-term direct payments to those in need.

To stay informed of these cash assistance efforts for immigrant families, visit icirr.org.

The Latino Policy Forum thanks its partners who helped lead these community discussions and provided such valuable information: Centro de Informacion, Family-Focus Nuestra Familia Cicero, Harris Community Action, Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Spanish Community Center, and Telpochcalli Community Education Project.

“Respuestas 2021” is a series of weekly articles for La Raza about the needs of the Latino and immigrant community arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, based on community discussions conducted by the Latino Policy Forum. The next topic will be on how community-based organizations have connected impacted families with assistance.