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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.


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“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.

Policies Matter: California v Texas

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.

COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on Immigrant Families

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.

Essential But Invisible and Excluded

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

Community Spotlights

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.

Immigrant Families in San Francisco

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

Explore More

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.

Read Francisco’s Story: Strength During COVID-19

Francisco has always hustled and made sacrifices to keep his family safe and financially stable. But when the shelter-in-place order was instituted, his world turned upside down.

Learn about our partnerships

A community is at its best when neighbors show up in meaningful ways with trust and respect for one another. Learn about the power of collective action in practice.