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Respuestas 2021: How COVID Assistance Outreach Can Better Reach Immigrant Communities

Immigrants stand to benefit the most from quality information on COVID assistance, but not enough is being done to ensure that they are reached.

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

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

Despite immigrants’ essential role in contributing to the country’s survival and recovery during the pandemic, many are left without the COVID-19 assistance they need because information about emergency assistance programs and how to apply has been largely inaccessible to immigrant communities. 

“We didn’t know how to find help; we didn’t know we had rights, and this was really troubling,” said one community member who participated in a series of community forums conducted by the Latino Policy Forum.

Online outreach methods limit information to those with internet access, social media profiles, and technological savvy; English-language resources exclude non-English speakers; and outreach outside the Chicagoland area is lacking.

“We have tried communicating with clients over email, but not everyone has an email address,” explained a staff member at Centro de Información in Elgin. “Many residents, especially older individuals, do not know how to email or even how to use smart devices. It has been a challenge to connect with them.” 

What’s more, the application process for many assistance programs is cumbersome, confusing, and onerous. When applying for rental assistance, one participant was given just three days to provide letters from the employers of everyone in the family to verify their income. This requirement ultimately barred them from receiving assistance because they had no way of contacting their employers since their workplaces had closed due to COVID-19. 

“I was so frustrated, and I didn’t know where to go,” said another participant about trying to complete an application in her non-native English.

Community members reported that even when the applications were translated, they were still unclear, and they feared that their personal information would be shared with government agencies. “It was mostly out of fear and ignorance that we did not apply for assistance,” one participant said. 

Participants also expressed a need for increased information about how they can support their communities. After finally making it through the arduous process and receiving assistance, they wanted to help their neighbors do the same. 

Many were also concerned that they may be required to repay the assistance allotted them, or that applying for assistance would affect their public charge test. Lack of transparency contributes to uncertainty and mistrust of the process. 

Community members and community service providers recommend that agencies diversify their outreach methods to broaden their reach and enhance their efficacy for the communities who really need them. 

They urged agencies to meet the community where they are. All materials should be available in Spanish and indigenous languages whenever possible. They should provide clear, user-friendly, paper applications that individuals can complete without extra guidance from already-understaffed community-based organizations. 

They should distribute flyers in grocery stores, laundromats, churches, and schools. They should promote programs on local radio stations and canvas neighborhoods. Maria Gonzalez, Housing Assistance Program Manager at the Spanish Community Center, even went personally to knock on doors and visit local churches to get the word out to her community about upcoming assistance. 

Added resources need to be dedicated to outreach efforts in the suburbs and outside the Chicagoland area. Centro de Informacion recommends a centralized list of resources that community members and organizations can access to find assistance throughout the state.

FInally, increased funding needs to be allocated to provide more immigrant-friendly assistance programs, services, and resources to families outside the City of Chicago and to other parts of the state.


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 COVID's long-term mental health impact on the immigrant community.