We saw it coming.

Ever since that dreadful day Trump descended down the escalator to announce his candidacy, we all knew deep down that it was the start of open season on immigrants. We’d seen it before. Desperate politicians using hateful dog-whistle rhetoric to dehumanize and scapegoat people of color. Never did I think that open season this time would mean a shower of bullets – indiscriminately killing human beings just because they look Mexican, including Jordan and Andre Anchondo, both parents protecting their infant child in El Paso.

Like many others, news of El Paso shook my sense of safety and belonging in America.

I suppose that was exactly the intent of yet another act of terror in a campaign against immigrants. What is clear to me is that the El Paso shooter did not act alone. The White House is also driving their own campaign that is now clear: raiding work sites just for the spectacle of it; denying visas at record rates for people looking to reunite with their families; separating families seeking asylum just to send a message of spite and indifference to their claims; and now punishing legal residents with uncertainty over their immigration status if they seek public assistance. They are doing all of this to inflict cruelty in people’s lives, to make immigrants feel insecure, not wanted or welcomed in America. We feel it too.

At MAF, we’re turning our pain into action. We are committing a $1.5 million revolving loan fund to help eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship and DACA.

[infogram id=”8a81d3c6-4732-45e2-aa5a-a989160fe941″ prefix=”L0T” format=”interactive” title=”MAF Immigration Loans”]

We’re doubling the number of zero-interest loans to help people that can’t cover the cost of applying to do so now. Over 8 million eligible immigrants can apply for US citizenship; we want to help those who can’t cover the $725 cost of applying. There is no time to waste.

Join us. Help us. Work with us. We can’t allow for America to descend any further.

With gratitude,

Jose Quinonez

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MAF Sponsors SB 455: CA Financial Empowerment Fund

In the U.S. there is a wide array of financial products and services to help consumers build their financial lives. In addition to banks, there is a whole Financial Planning and Advice industry to assist consumers in making sound financial decisions.

But for low-income Americans, access to this advice and support — service that could help them manage their complicated financial lives — is limited, at best.

In 2018, the U.S. spent $670 million in financial education programs for low-income consumers — an amount equal to a little over 1% of the Financial Planning and Advice industry’s total revenue that year ($57 billion). This gap in spending illustrates just how inadequately we support consumers that are financially vulnerable, marginalized and underserved by mainstream financial institutions and the advice industry.

The resources to provide higher quality financial support to these communities do exist. It is just a matter of redistributing existing resources in a more effective way.

On October 2, Govenor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 455 to create the California Financial Empowerment Fund — a $4 million fund to support a statewide infrastructure of nonprofits delivering effective financial education and empowerment tools that help consumers improve their financial well-being.

With the passage of SB 455, the State of California is now actively engaged in supporting effective financial education and empowerment tools. The bill elevates clear standards for how these efforts are designed and delivered and brings government money to bear in this important work.

Financial well-being is not a final destination, nor a singular goal that individuals need to reach. Rather, financial well-being is a continuous state of being. It is about being able to meet all of our financial needs and obligations throughout the course of our lives. And to do so, we require effective tools and advice in navigating complicated financial systems.   

Even when we think our financial lives are set, something out of our control can happen to shake our confidence and financial well-being. Take for example the financial health of federal workers who were forced from their jobs during the 5-week long government shutdown; 25% of which reported going to food banks to put food on the table and 42% of which took on new debt in order to meet their day-to-day expenses. The longest government shutdown ever laid bear this simple fact: even those with the most secure jobs are weeks away from being financially vulnerable.

SB 455 is momentous for MAF but it is an even bigger moment for the financial empowerment field. Its passage will allow us to set high standards of how to design and deliver effective financial education.

MAF, like many nonprofits, provide effective financial products and services that are making a difference. In the past decade, we’ve learned that pairing safe and affordable products with financial education allows people to achieve impressive outcomes in their financial lives. When clients apply to our Lending Circles program they gain access to free online financial education courses, and 45% of first-time loan clients watch more than the minimum requirement. Lending Circles clients are then able to improve their credit scores by an average of 168 points, pay down high-cost debt by $1,000, and repay their loans at a 99.3% repayment rate. Many of our clients, like Boni (read his story here), are able to apply the concepts they learn online — whether it’s about credit or homebuying — to build their credit and expand their access to the financial services world.

As leaders in our field, we need to have an honest conversation about how we engage communities around financial education and empowerment.

Financial products and services have to be delivered effectively in order to have a positive transformational impact. We found that 91% of first-time MAF loan clients opted to learn about a product they already had. This indicates that people are hungry to learn more about the products they’re using and that financial education is a process of lifelong learning. People want to know how to use the products available to them so they can increase their financial well-being and we can support that need by offering relevant financial education programs. SB 455 would provide nonprofits at the forefront of creating pathways to financial empowerment the opportunity to build a collective power that leads to a positive change in how our financial systems function.

Everyone, both those that are included and excluded from the financial mainstream systems, has much to learn about financial products and services. Nothing about navigating complicated financial systems is intuitive. We need to think about how to deliver financial education effectively — in a way that motivates and uplifts the financial growth of all communities.

Financial well-being matters, for us and our communities. SB 455 prioritizes the financial health of consumers in California.

We are uplifting our work in the financial empowerment field with an eye toward bigger systems change. Financial wellness should be a reality for all communities, particularly for those often ignored by mainstream financial institutions, and SB 455 is a stepping stone to make it happen. We are eager to see the impact that SB 455 will have on state-wide standards and funding.

Be sure to follow MAF on social media for more updates! 

Media Contact:
Joanna Cortez Hernandez, MAF
(415) 373-6039
[email protected]

Public Charge Statement Release: A Barrier to Upward Mobility for Immigrant Families

MAF recently submitted the below statement against the proposed public charge rule. We would like to encourage you all to also make your voice heard before the public comment period closes on December 10th. The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has designed an online comment portal to make the public comment process easier.

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) strongly opposes the proposed public charge rule because of the irreversible harm that it will have on immigrant families all across the nation. In over ten years, MAF has supported thousands of low-income individuals, families, and immigrants gain access to safe and affordable loan products. While we are based in San Francisco, CA our nonprofit’s programs and services have led positive impact in communities all across America.

As a direct service provider, we are already witnessing the fear that this proposed rule is causing in the lives of our clients; many whom are immigrant families that use programs like CalFresh to help keep food on the table. In the Bay Area alone, which includes nine different counties, there are more than 440,400 noncitizens in families who participate in cash and noncash benefit programs currently being considered in the proposed rule’s public charge determination. The fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.

We should be putting all of our efforts into maximizing the opportunity for all to thrive in our country, regardless of their immigration or financial status. Instead, this proposed rule would set forth short-sided standards when making public charge determinations. MAF understands the importance of financial security and we know that an individual’s income and credit report alone doesn’t depict a clear picture of their entire financial situation. In fact, within 6 to 12 months of starting our program, nearly one-fifth of MAF’s Lending Circles clients are able to escape subprime credit scores. This only goes to show that there are many different factors that play a role in determining someone’s low credit score and that it would be unfair to include it as a factor for deciding an individual’s immigration status.  

MAF recognizes the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by all immigrants in America to overcome barriers. Not only is this proposed rule heartless and unjust, but it creates barriers to upward mobility for immigrant families. The proposed changes to public charge deviate from the founding spirit of America. Immigrants are and will always continue to be important in the fabric of our communities. Instead of embracing and respecting the diverse backgrounds of all immigrants, this proposed rule is an extension of anti-immigrant policies at the federal level that further perpetuates a false narrative of immigrants.  

Like many other nonprofit direct service providers, MAF wants to ensure that the promise of our country is made true for everyone regardless of their origins or financial status. As long-standing advocates, we will never support a policy that further harms vulnerable immigrant families in America. With the well-being of our communities and the success of our nation in mind, we urge the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its proposed changes to the public charge rule.

In solidarity,

Mission Asset Fund (MAF)

Public Charge: An Attack on All Immigrants

A few weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed rule that will change how the government looks at immigrants who have used or are likely to use public benefits. This proposed rule would enforce outrageous standards for evaluation, like using an immigrant’s credit report and score to determine whether they are or are likely to become a “public charge.” To put this into perspective, a credit score of 640 (a below average FICO score) could mean the difference between receiving and not receiving a green card.

The proposed rule characterizes toxic America values that fail to acknowledge and respect the contributions of all immigrants regardless of financial status.

If implemented, the rule will make it difficult for: 1) immigrants who are currently outside of and seeking permission into the United States to receive a visa; or 2) immigrants who are already in the United States and are applying to become a legal permanent resident (or green card holder) through a family member or their employer.

At the core of the proposed rule is the federal government’s effort to expand the list of public assistance programs that will be considered when evaluating an immigrants’ eligibility to secure status. The current public charge policy only considers cash assistance and government-funded long-term institutional care but the proposed rule would expand it to also include the following key social safety net programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), non-emergency Medicaid, Medicare Part D, and Section 8 housing vouchers.

This is a deliberate, mean-spirited tactic employed by the administration to further harm vulnerable immigrant families in the United States.

Aside from expanding the definition of public charge to include additional public assistance programs, the proposed rule would also set forth short-sided standards for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to consider when making public charge determinations.

In the proposed rule, the federal government outlines a new household income threshold that highly favors immigrants with a household income over 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (which, for a family of four, is more than $62,000 annually). The proposed rule would also mandate immigrants to disclose their credit history and score as a weighted factor of their financial status. Its expansion of public assistance programs along with its increased breadth of scope for factors, like financial status, would penalize non-citizen immigrant families for a lack of “self-sufficiency”, or in other words, for being low-income.

The underlying message to immigrant families is what’s most worrisome — choose between receiving critical public assistance for the health and well-being of you and your family or secure your future immigration status in the United States.

This is a cruel and unjust dilemma to impose on low-income immigrant families. But the fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.

As a nonprofit that supports immigrants, MAF understands the importance of financial security and access to safe and affordable loan products. We recognize the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by all immigrants in the United States to overcome financial barriers. Not only is this proposed rule heartless and unjust, but it creates barriers to upward mobility for low-income and immigrant families. It is designed to deny these families a chance to thrive.

In over ten years of supporting thousands of low-income individuals, families, and immigrants to establish their credit, we know that an individual’s income and credit report alone doesn’t depict a clear picture of their entire financial situation.

MAF, like many other nonprofit direct service providers, will witness the harm DHS’ proposed rule related to public charge will cause on immigrant families. This proposed rule is an inhumane and punitive attack that will destroy the health and well-being of vulnerable immigrant families across the nation.

Last Wednesday, DHS recently published its proposed rule in the Federal Register, an act that marks the commencement of a 60-day public comment period that will close on Monday, December 10th. It is during this 60-day public comment period that our action against public charge matters more than ever. 

The fight is far from over and the time to act is now!

MAF is committed to advocating for our immigrant communities and opposing this repressive proposed rule. Whether you decide to use your voice during the public comments period or you’re interested to learn more about our work to support immigrants; we encourage you all to stand with us as allies in service to the fair and just treatment of all immigrant communities.

Join the Rabble!

Ten years ago, we started a movement in San Francisco, leading thousands of low-income and immigrants families throughout the country to become financially visible, active, and successful in the financial system.

What started with our flagship Lending Circles program offering zero-interest loans, has evolved into a whole suite of products and services to help people improve their financial lives. We do everything with the steadfast determination to meet people where they are and build on what is good in their lives. We’re now providing financial coaching “windows” at Mexican Consulates in the Bay Area, financing to help cover expensive immigration fees, and innovating tools designed to help clients thrive even more. And all the while, we’re still working with nonprofits to deepen and expand our work throughout the country.

We have a lot to celebrate, but we’re even more energized by what we have coming in November: MAF Summit!  We’re hosting this important gathering of partners, colleagues, funders, friends on November 15 and 16 in San Francisco!

This year’s theme is “Transcend. Evolve. Take Flight.” We envision ourselves and our communities as a rabble of butterflies, having evolved to withstand adversity, and able to overcome obstacles no matter how big or sudden they seem. We finish the journeys we start and we know the final destination is still ahead.

We’re thrilled to bring together an even larger network of change agents—leaders from across the nonprofit, tech, finance, and social sectors—all looking to learn, inspire and build new, long-lasting solutions. We’ll have thought leaders like Fred Wherry from Princeton University and long-time advocates like Daniel Lee from the Levi Strauss Foundation and Elena Chavez Quezada from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund to highlight the good work that’s been done and shift our focus and energy toward building solutions that will endure.

We have to be smart and industrious as we leap forward and build solutions to outlast whatever challenges await. By nurturing partnerships, learning from each other, using technology for good, and sharing sacred stories of resolve and resolutions, we’ll come together with purpose and leave prepared for the next 10 years.

Join the rabble. Take flight with us.

Here to help: reacting to the latest DACA court order

A third federal judge has issued a new DACA ruling. While the first two injunctions re-opened the program for the foreseeable future, this order is the first time since September 5, 2017 that there’s been a glimmer of hope that the Department of Homeland Security could be ordered to resume taking new DACA applications – and not just accept renewals. This opens up new opportunities for eligible Dreamers who are struggling to make ends meet without a work permit and are in fear of their safety and stability. With no viable Dream Act making its way through congress, the current DACA program is one of the only rays of light.

Within 90 days – per the court order – we should know more from DHS and the courts about what will come to pass. But instead of just waiting, we are taking action to help more people adjust their immigration status as soon as they can. With rising ICE raids, toxic stress and fear rampant in immigrant families from so many heartbreaking cases of families being torn apart, we must do what we can to help right now.

This is how we resist: with new and expanded programs that meet the urgent needs of our communities. This is our way of saying: We are here. We are ready. Here’s an infographic that’s easy to share:

To recap:

  • DACA renewals continue to be accepted. If you are able to renew, we recommend doing it as soon as possible. If you need financial assistance, we’re here to help.
  • No new DACA applications are being accepted (but stay tuned – we will know more in the next 1-3 months).
  • You might be eligible for other ways to adjust your immigration status. We recommend connecting with an attorney through Immi.org to see if you might be eligible for legal permanent residence or other programs.

What we’re doing about it:

  • Offering 0% interest loans for DACA, TPS, Green Cards, Citizenship & more to California residents. Learn more.
  • Providing fee assistance & referrals to people facing extreme economic hardship. Contact us for more info.
  • Hosting trainings on starting your own business (a viable way to have a job if you don’t have a work permit). Sign up now.

How you can help:

  • Share the knowledge: Encourage family and friends to renew their DACA now or start preparing now in case DHS starts accepting new applications in the next few months.
  • Stand with Immigrants! Help us keep these programs going by donating or encouraging your friends and family to donate. Start a fundraiser with your friends or join a team of fundraisers and send a message to the world that you stand with immigrants!

 

#HereToStay: Announcing MAF’s new immigration loan programs

Mission Asset Fund is excited to launch new zero-interest, credit-building loans available throughout California to cover the USCIS filing fees for U.S. Citizenship ($725), DACA Renewals ($495), Green Cards ($1,225), Temporary Protected Status ($495), and Petition for Immigrant Relatives ($535). Eligible individuals can apply now at bit.ly/MAFheretostay

We were inspired by the insights we’ve collected from our community

Over the years, we’ve maintained a commitment to building programs designed by and for our community.

Most recently, following the administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, we responded to a very immediate financial emergency as families scrambled to come up with the $495 necessary to cover the USCIS filing fee. Over the course of a few months, we were able to issue over 7,500 grants to DACA recipients totaling $3.8M+ across the country to cover the USCIS renewal filing fee. We’ve also continued our financial coaching work at the Mexican Consulates in San Francisco and San Jose, and we’re in the process of launching several new mobile apps and resources like our Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants.

 

 

Through our work with immigrant communities over the past year, we’ve deepened our understanding of the top financial concerns and priorities for individuals, regardless of immigration status. We’ve learned about the importance of financial security and access to capital in moments of emergency. We’ve learned about the financial burden that USCIS filing fees can present to families, preventing a large number of eligible individuals from securing immigration protection. We’ve learned about the need for secure and stable employment for individuals to cover basic living expenses and provide for their families.  

We’ve used these insights to inform the next chapter of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about our research insights, stay tuned for a blog series from our Research & Development team detailing some of our key findings from a survey we conducted with DACA recipients.   

Learn more about the programs and spread the word

We’re excited to begin offering a series of new loan programs in California that facilitate pathways to immigration protection and stable employment for individuals and their families.

 

 

Here are some next steps you can take:

1. Watch the recording of our webinar.

Learn more about the enrollment process and how to apply. Share the video with your community and other non profit organizations throughout California!

2. If you live in California, apply for a loan to finance your USCIS application.

Need help financing your USCIS application fee for U.S. Citizenship, DACA Renewals, Green Card, Petition for Relative, or Temporary Protected Status? Apply here if you live in California.

3. Spread the word on social media.

Tell your friends and family and post one of these images about these new programs on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We want our community to know that MAF is #HereToStay. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in the loop about our new programs.

How MAF launched the largest DACA renewal campaign in 3 days

The Trump Administration ended DACA on September 5, 2017, igniting a wave of anguish and fear in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of young people came out of the shadows to register for the DACA program hoping that that would be the first step to becoming full participants in the U.S., the country many know as their only home. Despite the dark cloud of uncertainty in their lives, young immigrants are rising up, full of hope. They are organizing the social justice movement of our generation, advocating for a DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship, and pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms to help millions of undocumented immigrants as well.

I was boarding a flight at the crack of dawn to Los Angeles when the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Since 2012, this program has provided young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – commonly referred to as “Dreamers” – with protection from deportation and work permits. Scrolling through the headlines, I knew it would be a rough day. Not only was the Administration ending DACA, but it was doing so in a ridiculously cruel way. The announcement ended DACA for new applicants – many of whom were high school students who dreamed of pursuing higher education using DACA – while giving those already with DACA just one month to submit applications to renew their status if their work authorization ended by March 5, 2018. Dreamers were left to learn about the announcement on their own and determine whether or not they qualified.

154,000 Dreamers could extend their protective status for two more years. But they didn’t get any letters or receive a phone call. There was no outreach to encourage them to renew.

Immigrant communities and advocates were outraged by the announcement. Protests erupted in cities across the country. People were angry, and rightly so. Our government was breaking a promise made by President Obama that had radically improved the lives of the 800,000 young immigrants enrolled in the program. For years Congress had both acknowledged the need to reform America’s broken immigration system, but failed to do so, leaving millions of immigrants unable to come out of the shadows. DACA was a small, temporary solution for young people as we waited for Congress to fix our broken system.

No official notification from the government

No official notification from the government

Sessions announces DACA will end

Sessions announces DACA will end

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

In 2012, President Obama gave the executive order to establish DACA, under which the federal government promised not to deport immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were enrolled in school, had graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.  Instead, the government would grant them permission to work and provide them with Social Security numbers. In return, Dreamers would register with the Department of Homeland Security and provide them with all of their personal information. Like the 800,000 Dreamers who registered for DACA, at MAF, we too believed in that promise—that they could live openly in the light of day.

When President Obama first created DACA, we started providing zero-interest loans to finance the high application fee (now $495). We worked with over 1,000 Dreamers in the last 5 years. For MAF, this was personal.

We witnessed the benefits of DACA on a daily basis. With DACA, we saw first-hand that our clients were better supporting themselves and their families by accessing higher paying jobs. They opened bank accounts and began saving. By every metric, DACA propelled them forward, unleashing their creative energy and human potential. With DACA, some of our clients enrolled in school, became doctors or nurses. Others, like Gustavo, secured better-paying jobs. He stopped cleaning houses and was able to get work as a Wells Fargo bank teller serving the Latino community

I spent the next day in Los Angeles, fielding emails and trying to think through next steps. Thursday morning, I was back in the MAF’s office where we had our first post-announcement staff meeting. We talked about our options, trying to figure out how to proceed. Doing nothing was not an option. Without knowing exactly how, on that morning we resolved to help as many Dreamers as possible to renew their status.

Dreamers only had four weeks to renew before the October 5 deadline, so every minute mattered. With that in mind, we agreed to offer zero-interest loans, but on a much larger scale than ever before. We were going national with these loans. This would be a huge operational challenge for us for two reasons. First, up until this point, we’d only financed DACA application fees for Dreamers in California. Second, although MAF is a national organization, we work through a network of nonprofit partners to serve clients outside of California. For the sake of efficiency, we needed to outreach to and directly serve clients all over the U.S., regardless of geography- for the first time ever.

We set a goal to finance 1,000 applications in 30 days – the same number of loans we had provided in the last five years.

I began contacting funders to solicit support for our new loan fund.  We needed $500,000, and fast. While I was working the phones for funding, MAF staff members were working furiously to operationalize the new loan fund. Our communications team built a new website specifically for the DACA renewal loans, complete with a clock that tracked the number of minutes left before the window to apply for renewal closed. Our tech team streamlined our existing loan application by stripping out any information that wasn’t absolutely essential to processing the loan requests, and built a system for rapidly reviewing and confirming an applicant’s eligibility to renew at this time.

By the end of that first week, we’d secured a million dollars in commitments from the Weingart Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Chavez Family Foundation, and Tipping Point Community. With their support, we doubled our original goal accordingly and aimed to help 2,000 DACA recipients to apply for renewal. It was an absurdly ambitious and risky goal, one that could put MAF’s finances in a potential cash-flow crisis. But we had to do it. If ever there was a time to put it all on the line, it was now.

 

One week after the announcement to end DACA, we were ready to launch the new loan fund. We had 21 days until the deadline.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 12, we sent a series of emails and press releases to media outlets, colleagues, funders, and immigrant rights activists. I was in New Jersey that day, preparing to deliver a keynote address later that evening, when I received a call from Fred Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weingart Foundation, asking us to consider offering grants instead of loans. He argued that the urgency and gravity of the situation necessitated grants and that loans, even at zero interest, would pose a barrier to some Dreamers. I was reluctant to make the shift right after launching the campaign, but hearing his commitment to work with us made it easier to take the plunge. Thanks to Fred, a new path forward opened for us.

I quickly called MAF’s leadership team and we agreed to revise our strategy. We re-launched the campaign later that day offering $495 scholarships to DACA recipients who needed to renew. By Thursday, September 14, just two days after launching the campaign, we received more than 2,000 applications. The campaign’s website briefly crashed due to the heavy traffic. We were ecstatic at the response, but the overwhelming interest created a number of new operational challenges. First, there was a very real possibility that we would run out of money. Part of the problem was timing. While we had secured commitments from funders, we had not received the money in our bank account. We had to front MAF’s general operating money while funders worked through their approval and disbursement processes.

Just 48 hours into the campaign, the first 2,000 applicants had already claimed all of the $1,000,000 in DACA grant funds.

I remember the conversations with my leadership team about how to proceed as some of the most nerve-racking of the entire campaign. We were literally watching the clock, counting down the hours until we would run out of money. That night, we considered shutting down the program. Very quickly, we’d met our goal of helping 2,000 Dreamers, which was already double what we’d originally planned for. But the truth was that we could not stop. Ending DACA was a national emergency, and we refused to abandon our community in the midst of it.

We considered reverting back to zero-interest loans. But we didn’t want to do that either. It would have been extremely complicated and confusing. Instead, we changed our messaging to alleviate some pressure. We started encouraging applicants to first consider asking for support from friends or family members before requesting funds from MAF. We trusted that those who could self-select out of the process would do so, in turn reducing demand and increasing the likelihood that we would assist those most in need. We agreed that I’d work the phones to push for more funding.

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

The "Situation Room" in action

The "Situation Room" in action

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Ultimately, through the course of the campaign we raised $4 million dollars, eight times more than our initial goal. While I’d like to say that the money was a response to my exceptional fundraising skills, that wasn’t the case.

Funders understood the urgency of the situation, and many of them were able to expedite their approval processes – which usually takes months – into just hours or days. Fred Ali was working the phones too; he contacted his colleagues at other foundations, vouching for us and asking that they consider supporting the campaign. And like Fred, we had so many other funders working behind the scenes, calling colleagues and allies they knew would care and could commit quickly. Many of them contributed to the renewal fund, increasing our goal to helping 6,000 Dreamers renew their DACA status. Aside from the funding and cash flow challenges, we were now faced with a slew of major operational ones.

In theory, the process to deliver funds to applicants was simple. MAF would write a check to the Department of Homeland Security for $495, and mail it to the applicant, who would include it in their application package. But in practice, we hit wall after wall. For starters, there was the question of how to cut so many checks so quickly. During the earliest days of the campaign, when we were receiving upwards of 800 applications a day, I was traveling for work and our Chief Operating Officer was in Chile. Because we are the only two people authorized to sign MAF checks, this created an immediate bottleneck.

Our first workaround was a signature stamp. Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, Research and Technology Director, confirmed with our bank would recognize a stamp, got me onboard with the idea with a few days, but even that was too slow.

 With applications coming in by the hundreds each day; and seeing our target go from 3,000 to 4,000, and then finally to 6,000 renewals, we needed to find a better alternative.

Within a few days, we outsourced the task to a third-party processor to manage the bulk of the work, allowing us to focus on the approval process and applications that needed individual attention. This was a huge weight off of our shoulders. Just like with cutting checks, mailing them sounded straightforward but proved enormously difficult. Prior to this campaign, MAF had never primarily communicated with clients via snail mail. Consequently, we didn’t have much  experience sending large volumes of mail, and didn’t realize that it is both an art and a science, until it was almost too late.

Our original plan had been to send the checks via priority mail. To do this we needed the appropriate “priority mail” envelopes, which are available for purchase at every post office. So, on that first day, Mohan Kanungo, Director of Programs & Engagement, drove to the nearest post office to buy supplies. However, there weren’t enough envelopes for the hundreds of checks we needed to mail. So, he drove to another one. And then another.

Soon, MAF staff and their loved ones were driving all over the Bay Area to raid post office supplies.  At one point, Mohan charged $2,400 worth of mailing supplies to his personal credit card.

He couldn’t use a company card because he’d given it to a fellow MAF staffer who was using it to purchase supplies at other post offices. Because we were new to bulk mailings, we also didn’t know that there is a specific way you are supposed to do them. MAF staff showed up with huge boxes of envelopes, figuring we would mail them the way we would any other letter. Turns out that our method was extremely inefficient because the post office had no way to processes the envelopes in bulk. Rather, each one had to be processed individually, which took approximately 1 – 2 minutes, meaning mailing hundreds of envelopes could take hours.

No one was happy about this. The postal workers were frustrated by the massive inconvenience it caused them because they were understaffed, too. We were upset with ourselves, as well. MAF staff had to remain at the post office for hours at a time while each letter was processed. It was time we didn’t have. Soon postal workers simply began refusing to process our mailings. Staff would get rejected at one post office and drive to another in the hopes they could mail it from there. Or they’d split a large mailing into a couple of smaller ones that would be less onerous to process, and get them out that way

Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, called the local office of the regional representative of the United States Postal Service, where she spoke with a woman in the business service network department. Tara asked her, “Do you know about the Dreamers?” She said, “Yes!” After explaining what MAF was doing and why there was such a time crunch, the postal worker worker jumped into action. We found our advocate. That same day, she organized a conference call with supervisors from numerous area post offices during which she instructed them to accept all of MAF’s mailings. Our postal shero explained how to create a manifest for our mail so that the postal workers could scan all of our envelopes in bulk instead of individually. She also provided the direct name and number of the Postmaster General if we ran into more problems.

Fueling our anxiety was the fact that we had promised applicants a response within 48 hours of submitting the initial application.

Initially, we thought that 48 hours was a relatively fast turnaround time. But in a time of crisis, 48 hours can feel like forever. Our office was constantly flooded with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits, from applicants wanting to confirm that we had received their request and wanting to know when to expect the check.

Every single person on staff was answering phones and fielding inquiries – including me. We were woefully understaffed to field the volume of inquiries we were receiving, and decided we needed a more transparent and robust set of communications with our applicants. Aparna drafted a series of emails that would be automatically sent to applicants as their application worked its way through our process. One email was sent to confirm receipt of the application; another was sent to confirm that we had all of the necessary materials to review it; a third went out to confirm that it was approved; and a final email was sent confirming when to expect the check. We even created another automated email to tell applicants to expect another email soon with tracking information. It seems over the top, but these email communications considerably lowered the call volume.

While the automated communications helped to significantly reduce the volumes of calls and emails we received, we remained severely understaffed relative to the workload. We hired temporary staff but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to the nature of the highly sensitive information we were processing. So, we turned to our friends and colleagues, including La Cocina, and other key allies at Salesforce and Tipping Point, all of whom excused staff from work and sent them to our office to volunteer.

Then the office of the Governor of Washington contacted us and said “We heard you were the nationwide provider of DACA scholarships. We have an anonymous donor in the state of Washington. Can you process $125,000 of scholarships for our residents?”

Hundreds of organizations – both small and big – helped us to spread the word. There were videos, memes, vloggers and even a social media sweepstake sponsored by the Clever Girls Collaborative. The President of the University of California sent several press releases and social media messages to inform students about the scholarships, as did the President of the California Community Colleges. Without solicitation from our team, some funders approached us asking how they could support the initiative. Across the country, immigrant rights groups and legal aid organizations we’d never worked with before were advertising our renewal fund to their clients.

Spreading the word beyond the Bay Area was important because many of those organizations were operating in communities that lacked support for Dreamers, either because of the local political climate or because they were in rural, isolated areas, like Mississippi and Utah. We attribute a lot of our ability to reach these communities to incredible responses from both the media and social media. The campaign received more than 1,000,000 social media hits, and more than 100 media mentions, including coverage in New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, among other prominent outlets.

We were humbled to give $3.8M to 7,678 Dreamers – making this the largest DACA renewal fund in the nation.

In the fall of 2017, MAF provided $2,513,610 to fund 5,078 DACA renewal applications in 46 states – that’s 6.7 percent of all renewal applications submitted. That means we funded one out of every ten Dreamers in the state of California who applied for a renewal, including 16 percent of all applicants in the Bay Area. And in January 2018, days after U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s injunction, MAF issued an additional 2,600 grants to Dreamers.

As one Bay Area legal aid attorney told me, “Again and again and again, Dreamers walked into our offices to apply for a renewal with a MAF check in hand.”

Over the past several months, all of us at MAF have spent a lot of time reflecting on the campaign, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how the experience should shape our work moving forward. The campaign is a bittersweet victory. In terms of impact, we exceeded our wildest ambitions. We stood as a beacon of love and support for immigrants at a time when so many of our friends, families, and clients felt under attack. Nonetheless, as an organization we have struggled to celebrate the campaign because it represents the end of DACA. We believe in an America that is so much better than this, and remain stunned and absolutely livid that the Trump Administration ended DACA without offering a permanent legislative solution, leaving millions of young immigrants and their families in anguish. Living with that sort of pain is difficult. For all the sadness and disgust that we have felt in response to the Trump Administration’s actions, we have also discovered a deeper and more powerful resolve. While I know each MAFista took away something personal from the experience, we share these overarching lessons:

1. Timing is everything.

Proven solutions – no matter how great – are not always the *right* solution for every situation. We launched our fund with loans because making loans is what we do, and we do it well. But given the urgency of the DACA crisis – when we didn’t have time to deal with even the most modest of underwriting processes – loans simply weren’t the right product. At the beginning, we were so steeped in our history that we couldn’t see beyond loans. It took an outsider to open the door to the possibility of scholarships. However, once that door opened, we were flexible, ready to embrace the alternative approach, and operationalize it quickly.

2. Technology is critical to scale.

Time and time again throughout our campaign, we resolved bottlenecks and scaled services with technology. We engaged applicants throughout the country by creating a secure online application through our Salesforce CRM that people could complete and submit to us within minutes. We created automated emails to keep Dreamers informed and engaged throughout the application process. We outsourced the process of cutting checks to clients by building an electronic applicant database that we emailed to our third-party processor. Without question, absent technology, we could not troubleshoot obstacles in real time, and we would have been much more constrained in our ability to reach communities outside the Bay Area.

3. Trust is imperative to success.

Dreamers were willing to share their personal information with MAF – despite the climate of fear in which they were operating – because they knew that we were – and are – on their side. Similarly, funders, including ones that had previously never worked with us, were willing to bet big on us because they trusted their colleagues who vouched for us. Likewise, nonprofits referred their clients to us knowing that we were going to do right by them. All of this happened fast and trust was the key to making the campaign successful.

4. Uncertainty can be your friend.

As nonprofits, we plan our work over the course of years. We create theories of change, strategic plans, and budgets to demonstrate our good stewardship and fiscal management. In normal times, these tried and true practices help mark our progress towards achieving goals. I get it. But we’re not in normal times. In moments like these, no matter how perfect our plans are, the fact is that the fate of millions of families hang in the balance with the next incendiary tweet from Trump. We really don’t know the nature, or extent, of the next Trump-created crisis. This type of uncertainty necessitates a willingness and ability to take the ever-changing political climate into account, and change programmatic strategies accordingly.

The fight for social justice is long. We now have at least 7,600 more people ready to join the battle.

Preparing yourself for financial emergencies


How you can prevent an immigration-related emergency from becoming a financial one

 Detention and deportation can have a huge impact on a family’s finances. What happens to a car, apartment, or money in a checking account?

Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants

This new resource is an action-oriented tool that offers concrete tips to help families plan ahead and keep their money and belongings safe in the case of an immigration emergency. Topics include:

  • Protect your money: Simple steps to keep your money safe and accessible – from setting up online accounts to automatic bill pay
  • Protect your belongings: How to take stock of your belongings, why to consider getting insurance, and how to make a plan for all your belongings
  • Prepare for an emergency: Tips to help you set a savings goal, protect your credit card or set up a crowdfunding campaign
  • Create an action plan: Each section includes checklists and templates so you’ll know exactly what to do to prepare

Webinars & info sessions

Info sessions are great opportunities for nonprofit, foundation, or government staff to access to the guide, get trained on how to implement the content, and start sharing it with the community. If you’re interested in inviting a member of our staff to be a speaker, please contact us at [email protected]

In the media

Wealth inequality and new Americans


The racial wealth gap is real, and it’s growing. But where do immigrants fit into this analysis?

This post first appeared on the Aspen Institute’s blog. It was written by MAF’s CEO José A. Quiñonez in preparation for a panel on the Racial Wealth Gap at the Aspen Institute’s 2017 Summit on Inequality and Opportunity

Here’s what we know about wealth inequality in America today: It’s real, it’s huge, and it’s growing. Barring substantial policy change, it would take 228 years for black households to catch up to white households’ wealth, and 84 years for Latinxs to do the same. This matters because wealth is a safety net. Without that cushion, too many families live just one job loss, illness, or divorce away from financial ruin.

Here’s another thing we know: Contrary to popular opinion, wealth inequality between racial groups did not come about because one group of people didn’t work hard enough, or save enough, or make savvy enough investment decisions than the other.

How did it come about, then? The short answer: history. Centuries of slavery and the bitter decades of legal segregation laid the groundwork. Discriminatory laws and policies against people of color made things worse. The G.I. Bill of 1944, for example, helped white families buy homes, attend college, and accumulate wealth. People of color were largely excluded from these asset-building opportunities.

Today’s racial wealth divide is the financial legacy of our country’s long history of institutionalized racism.

The factor of time is, in some ways, foundational to these findings. Sociologistseconomists, and journalists alike all underscore how the racial wealth gap was created and exacerbated over time. But when it comes to the question of new Americans—the millions of us who have joined this nation in recent decades—time often gets glossed over in racial wealth gap conversations.

Immigrants’ creative survival strategies and rich cultural and social resources could help inform better policy interventions.

Reports generally illustrate the racial wealth gap by, understandably, placing the average wealth of different racial groups side by side and observing the gaping chasm that divides them. For example, in 2012, the average white household owned $13 in wealth for every dollar owned by black households, and $10 in wealth for every dollar owned by Latinx households. This story matters. There is no denying that. But what might we learn from investigating wealth inequality with more attention to immigration?

A report by the Pew Research Center divided the population of adults in 2012 into three cohorts: first-generation (foreign-born), second-generation (US-born with at least one immigrant parent), and third-and-higher generation (two US-born parents).

Clearly different racial groups have very different American stories.

The vast majority of Latinxs and Asians are new Americans. Seventy percent of Latinx adults and 93 percent of Asian adults are either first- or second-generation Americans. In contrast, a mere 11 percent of white and 14 percent of black adults are in the same generational cohorts.

By comparison, the latter groups have been in the United States for much longer. And given their relatively comparable tenure in the US, it makes sense to place their data side by side.

But comparing the wealth of Latinxs—half of whom are first-generation Americans—to that of white families, 89 percent of whom have been in the US for many generations, seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Instead, we could add nuance and context to our analysis by measuring the differences in wealth between racial groups within generational cohorts; or by comparing members of different groups who share key demographic characteristics; or even better still, by measuring the financial impact of policy interventions within specific groups.

For example, we could investigate the financial trajectories of young immigrants after they received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. Did they improve their income, build their savings, or even acquire appreciating assets, as compared with their peers?

We could go further back in time and explore what happened to the generation of immigrants who were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). What did emergence from the shadows mean for their assets and wealth? How does their wealth compare with those who remained undocumented?

These contextual comparisons can give us space not just to quantify what’s missing from people’s lives, but also to discover what works.

Their creative survival strategies and rich cultural and social resources could help inform better policy interventions and program developments. Bringing the story of new Americans into our conversations about wealth inequality will deepen our understanding of these disparities and the distinct forms they take for different groups. That’s what we need to develop the bold policies and innovative programs needed to narrow the stark racial wealth divide we face today.

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