Faced with a devastating pandemic in 2020, MAF stepped up to meet the needs of low-income and immigrant communities with what they needed most in this crisis: unrestricted cash assistance. Guided by our community-centered approach, we launched a COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to provide immediate relief to low-wage workers, immigrants, and college students who lost income during the pandemic.
On the day the fund opened, we were overwhelmed by the amount of need. With more than 250,000 grant applications but only enough funding to support 70,000 people, we chose to be more intentional in our funding distribution. We decided against a ‘first-come, first-served” approach or lottery system, approaches that benefit people with access, information, and luck. Instead, we took what we’ve learned over the years from serving low-income and immigrant families to create a Financial Equity Framework. Under this framework, we prioritized people who stood to benefit the most from relief: people facing structural barriers with the fewest income streams and most financial strains. Notably, without considering race or ethnicity, MAF’s financial equity approach delivered 93% of emergency grants to people of color.
For years, MAF has challenged what is possible in the fight against poverty, innovating solutions rooted in community that put poor people front and center. Our Financial Equity Framework is yet another way we are continuing our fight for social justice: by offering a clear, relevant, and actionable tool that can reach people facing multiple inequities in their financial lives. By focusing on financial equity, we can move closer to racial equity, and unleash the full potential of people who have been living at the margins of society for too long.
Lessons from Immigrant Families Left out of Federal Relief
Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the financial lives of immigrant families. Through no fault of their own, millions of immigrants lost jobs and income they relied on to support their families, forcing them to deplete what little savings they had or extend credit just to survive. In their time of greatest need, Congress excluded more than 11 million immigrants and their families from emergency stimulus checks and a desperately-needed financial lifeline.
In an effort to help those left behind, MAF launched the Immigrant Families Fund (IFF) to provide unrestricted cash grants to people excluded from federal relief. Since launching the IFF in April 2020, MAF has received over 200,000 applications for support. Overwhelmed with requests for help, we designed a financial equity framework to determine who could benefit the most from a one-time grant, prioritizing applicants with the fewest income sources and most financial strains. By placing financial equity front and center, MAF has provided 55,000 grants to families with the greatest need.
In October 2020, MAF conducted a survey to learn how the pandemic and economic crisis impacted those left behind, collecting detailed information from 11,677 grant recipients. Now, drawing on what is the largest national survey of immigrants left out of federal relief, we report on the deep financial pain immigrants are facing, the strategies they are using to weather the crisis, and the cost of exclusion from a safety net that continues to leave people behind.
immigrant & family members excluded
grants to immigrants
“As an undocumented person who has filed my taxes for twelve years, it has been hard to have to accept that in times when we struggle, we are unable to receive anything back.” –Juan
Immigrant Families Fund Insights
The Financial Devastation of Immigrant Families
While Congress extended a financial lifeline to struggling families through three rounds of stimulus checks, over 11 million immigrants and their families were excluded from desperately-needed support. In this insights brief, we see the deep financial pain immigrants are facing and the cost of exclusion from a safety net that was not designed for everyone.
While California enacted housing and utilities moratoriums to help people facing financial hardship due to COVID-19, Texas failed to enact similar state level pandemic supports. In this brief, we see how consumer protections helped families avoid a steeper downward financial spiral, while conservative state policies have left households vulnerable to greater financial fallout.
Facing income loss and left out of federal pandemic relief, immigrant families had to resort to emergency financial strategies to survive another day. In this brief, we shine a light on how the financial fallout from COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on immigrant families who’ve had to dig into their wealth building strategies to make ends meet.
Two years into the pandemic, we hear stories about a recovery where most Americans are coming out financially stronger than before. Missing from these narratives are the experiences of the millions of immigrant families who were excluded from relief, many whom showed up for essential roles, but were treated as invisible. How did immigrant families survive the pandemic? How can we help them rebuild their financial lives?
“I am behind on rent and bills. I am a single mother raising three children. This grant is important to me because I am going to have a form of relief knowing that I have some money to buy my children food and that with little money I can start paying the bills I owe.” – Delsis
San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund
By offering equity-centered relief, MAF ultimately reached 1 in 2 undocumented immigrant families in San Mateo County, funding more than 16,000 grants. In this brief, we see the deep financial devastation of the pandemic on the lives of immigrant families in San Mateo?a devastation that threatens to make rebuilding financial lives a steep uphill road to recovery.
For some immigrants who lost their stable jobs during COVID-19, gig work offered a window of opportunity to navigate the financial upheaval. MAF’s post grant survey captures how COVID-19 transformed the job market for immigrant families in San Francisco?and how the shift to gig work fell short in helping families meet their basic needs.
“I have never been late or owed anyone anything so being in this situation makes me feel as if somebody else is controlling the outcome of my life.” –Jasmin
Watch our Webinar: Excluded & Invisible
In the midst of a pandemic, millions of essential workers were excluded from federal relief. While media outlets report on the silver linings of COVID-19, we hear a different story from the families left behind.
In a matter of days, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of millions. As colleges and universities closed campuses, students were suddenly faced with a precarious future: many found themselves out of work and stable housing, facing unexpected costs, and often without the technology or supplies to continue working toward their degree.
In partnership with the College Futures Foundation, we made a decision to step up and give California’s low-income college students what they needed most: direct cash assistance. Between April and June, the CA College Student Emergency Support Fund provided direct cash assistance to more than 6,000 low-income college students in California’s public higher education system. The Fund distributed relief with an equity lens, prioritizing students without income or access to relief, and with children relying on them. In July, MAF followed up with grant recipients to understand how the crisis was impacting students’ lives. Over two weeks, 3,193 students responded to the post-grant survey, sharing how they were making ends meet and how MAF’s grant had impacted their academic and financial journey.
In this Rapid Response Insights Series, we pull back the curtain on the financial lives of college students. We explore how, across thousands of students, financial strategies and resources are interwoven with family responsibilities. When we look ahead, our response needs to be guided by one fundamental understanding: if we truly want to help people reach their goals, we have to focus on what’s foundational—financial security. We invite you to step into the financial lives of CA’s low-income public college students and explore the full insights series.
Webinar: Ensuring College Student Success Through Equity-Centered Relief
America’s financial landscape is littered with invisible barriers. These barriers take many forms, including credit scores, bank accounts, and identification requirements. For millions of people in this country, that invisible barrier is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or an ITIN. ITINs are nine-digit numbers issued to people paying their taxes but who are not eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN). They are issued to a variety of people, including international investors, students and spouses in the U.S. on visas, and immigrants. The U.S. Treasury has issued over 23 million ITINs over the last decade. In 2015 alone, over 4.3 million people paid taxes with an ITIN -totaling over $13.7 billion.
Many financial services providers cite SSNs as the only acceptable form of identification. There is no banking regulation that says an SSN is necessary or the only acceptable identification form. But these default requirements, in effect, become barriers to accessing financial services, sending a clear message to the community: If you don’t have an SSN, please don’t apply.
Here at MAF, we serve many people that mainstream financial institutions overlook, including people who apply for financial services with an ITIN. In this pilot report, we are reaching into our rich client dataset to understand how our clients with ITINs navigate their financial lives. While not a national sample, our analysis lifts up important insights for providers, advocates, and policymakers.