Tag: Jose Quinonez

A Guaranteed Income for the Indispensable

I have been listening to a lot of music during the pandemic, trying to make sense of our world. A global pandemic, raging fires, voter suppression, a recall election, and refugee crises are but a few of what’s top of mind.

There’s one song called “Sueño con Serpientes”—by the Cuban musician and poet Silvio Rodríguez—that uses powerful metaphors that I think speak to what we are going through today.

Silvio wrote this song in 1975 from a nightmare where he battles translucent serpents with a hydra-like tendency. Every time he slays one snake, another larger one appears.

Sound familiar? I replay the song in the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge. Months ago, we were beating the virus until the Delta variant appeared. The light at the end of the tunnel was within sight! Now, we’re in the thick of the pandemic again. But all hope is not lost for, as the song goes, Silvio defeats the larger serpent when he proclaims un verso, una verdad.

I know. It’s soothing to think that proclaiming one’s truth alone can defeat the mightiest of serpents, or whatever monsters or pandemics we’re fighting against. Truth, it turns out, is necessary to strengthen our conviction but it takes a lot more to be a hero. Silvio hints at what that is by reciting this Bertolt Brecht poem at the beginning of the song:

“There are people who fight for a day, and they are good.
There are others who fight for a year, and they are better.
There are those who fight for many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who fight all their lives: these are the indispensable ones.”

Victory is not assured by winning one battle alone. It takes real work over time to be a real hero—making those that fight day in and day out, over years, and throughout their lifetimes, as the poem states, indispensable. 

In our world today, I think of essential workers as the indispensable ones, the real heroes.

Think about it. Even before the COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, essential workers showed up to work in agricultural fields, in food processing plants, and in restaurants when we most needed them. They showed up to work, risking their lives to keep our society going. Without immigrant labor, our food supply chain would have crumbled, causing untold panic and harm in society. 

The same cannot be said of everyone. Our federal government did not show up for immigrant families, instead ignoring their struggles as families lost income, depleted savings, and amassed debts. They excluded immigrant families from receiving relief that could have helped them stay current with bills and pay rent to stay housed. 

Seeing the injustice of excluding immigrant families from relief, our neighbors stepped up to lend a hand.

MAF raised $55M to provide 63,000+ grants to help undocumented families, workers, and students cover basic and immediate needs. But as we wind down our rapid response grants program, we know it was clearly not enough. The need was immense and intense. COVID-19 devastated the financial lives of families, and it will take them years to recover. 

We are ready to do more. At MAF we are moving from rapid response grants to providing long term support to families with children who are now excluded from receiving the expanded Child Tax Credit. Over one million immigrant children without Social Security numbers are not getting support. We are launching MAF’s Immigrant Families Recovery Fund with $25M seed funding to provide immigrant families a guaranteed income up to two years. Participants will receive direct cash, intensive financial coaching, self-advocacy training, and access to MAF’s suite of credit building and zero interest loans to help rebuild their financial lives faster. 

At MAF, we’re bringing all that we have to bear in the fight against poverty, just as essential workers did in the midst of the global pandemic.

And we want to do better. We plan to evaluate, study, and share what we learn from their recovery journey to inform and inspire policy solutions for meaningful systems change. 

Listening to Silvio’s music makes me appreciate the fact that, whether we’re slaying translucent serpents or battling fires or fighting poverty, it takes real conviction and hard work over a lifetime to ensure any victory. 

This has never been a one-time fight for us, but the fight for our lives. That’s our truth. 

We Lean on Each Other in Times of Crisis

If I had to distill the essence of MAF’s Rapid Response work into one word it would be: partnerships. Amidst the new social distancing, we’ve been able to come closer than ever to listen to one another and help each other during this unimaginable crisis.

Soon after the stay-at-home orders were given in March, we set out to help clients that we knew were going to be adversely impacted.

We heard from clients right away, anxious about losing income, not knowing how they were going to pay rent, buy food or even keep up with their monthly bills. We felt their concern and moved quickly to lift up a Rapid Response Fund on March 20th not really knowing the depth of the unfolding pandemic.

In the early moments of the crisis, the philanthropy field rallied to respond to this new challenge.

We partnered with foundations that stepped forward to support the communities they work with and care deeply about: college students, members of the creative economy, and immigrant families left out of the CARES Act. They worked to get money to us quickly, recognizing the urgency and helping us get money directly into the hands of those who needed it as fast as possible. I have never seen the grant process move so quickly, sprinting from our first conversation to commitment and disbursal within days. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re clear-eyed and committed to the end goal.

While the fundraising was ongoing, our team was repurposing our systems and technology to disburse cash grants at scale.

We built an entirely new application process for each of the communities we set out to support, spending time to consider how we could equitably address the tremendous need that was out there. We made sure that in each application we asked the right set of questions with care and respect and took time to understand each applicant’s financial reality, strategies, and resources. With this, we were able to prioritize need: we knew that first come, first served only exaggerated systemic inequities and barriers to access, privileging those with the fastest internet and best information. We created an alternative that focused the resources we have on those who needed it the most. And, underlying this whole process, we ensured our new system was set up with the same steadfast commitment to processing sensitive financial data efficiently and securely.

Seven weeks into the quarantine, we’re now in the middle of providing $500 grants to over 20,000 people who are in desperate financial need.

It is inspiring to take stock of what we have accomplished with our partners:

  • 3 Rapid Response funds supporting college students, young creatives, and immigrant families
  • 23 foundations pooling resources across all three funds
  • $12M in total to provide people with emergency financial relief
  • 26 outreach partners who are connecting us with eligible immigrant families

With our partners beside us and our small but mighty staff of 29 MAFistas, we’ve been able to support:

  • 75,000+ individuals who signed up looking for help
  • 52,000+ completed pre-applications with insights about people’s financial situation
  • 8,000+ completed full applications on our secure platform
  • 5,500+ grants distributed and deposited into checking accounts

At every step, there has been a lot of careful and thoughtful work behind all of these numbers.

MAFistas stepped up to ensure that we built the right applications, used the right technology, and created the right process for each of the communities we’re helping – all done with care and urgency to help people in this moment of crisis. Why? Simply put: we have received over 7,000 emails, calls, tickets from people asking for help – we hear their stories, their cries for help – and that’s motivating staff to go above and beyond our normal work to show up for people in their time of need.

I can only say that it is truly humbling to witness such devotion.

With this kindness and compassion behind it, we are demonstrating the best of what technology and finance can be. And with our partners beside us, we are demonstrating what it means to show up for people – to help families in this moment of crisis not only with financial aid but, most importantly, a message of hope and solidarity that they are not alone.

You can support MAF’s Rapid Response Fund here.

Helping Those With the Least Weather the Crisis

We are in the midst of a generation-defining crisis. The coronavirus is laying bare the interconnectedness of modern life, rapidly spreading and jeopardizing the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. No one is immune.

This unprecedented and unfolding pandemic is hitting everyone, but those with the least and the last will be hurt the most.

The coronavirus is uncovering deep inequalities in our society. People with homes to shelter, assets to protect, and relief to obtain will be impacted. But people without homes, immigrants without protections, workers without relief are going to bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Already, clients are contacting us with stories of losing jobs, wages, and incomes. They don’t know how they are going to pay rent at the end of the month.

People are feeling deep financial pain right now.

Making it harder still is the fact that many of our clients can’t or won’t get support from government programs. Millions of part-time workers, students, contractors, immigrants and self-employed may not qualify for unemployment insurance, health benefits, or even nutritional assistance. This pandemic is showing the reality that there is no meaningful safety net for the people who need it most.

Immigrant families are terrified. The federal government recently implemented a “Public Charge Rule” that sent a chilling message to immigrant families against using public services. Now, they wonder if going to the hospital would hurt their chances of becoming legal permanent residents. They are worried, “If I’m undocumented, could seeking treatment make me vulnerable to deportation?”

At MAF, we are connecting clients to community services and providing them with direct financial assistance when possible.

There is a growing awareness that in moments like these, what is most helpful is actual cash to help people pay rent, buy food and keep them from falling further behind. For some, it may be a small intervention, a referral, a small grant or a bridge loan that can keep them going. But timing is critical.

We are moving quickly to lift up MAF’s Rapid Response Fund to help low income workers, immigrant families, and students likely to be left behind, without relief from government action. We have the tools, the technology and the reach into these vulnerable communities but we need your financial support to make this a reality. 

In this moment of unprecedented national crisis, it is going to take all of us to come together, to support one another in a renewed spirit of mutuality and respect. We are in this together, and only together can we move forward as a nation.

Click here to donate.

In solidarity,

Jose Quinonez

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

DONATE

We will keep fighting

My soul hurts to hear babies crying inconsolably for their parents, begging for help. I think about these little ones each time I look at my children, hoping that we will stop this madness and reunite them with their mothers and fathers who braved through that long and dangerous journey millions of immigrants have taken before, looking for safety in America.   

But instead of refuge, they found a government that terrorized their innocence, ripping child away from parent and violating their human and legal rights in the process. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy harkens back to slavery, Japanese internment camps, and even Nazi Germany. And for what? This administration callously calculated that taking babies hostage would ignite a crisis to further their political agenda.

They made a terrible mistake.

Trump’s new Executive Order did not end the crisis. The administration is still following “zero tolerance” policy, keeping asylum seekers in detention camps along the US/Mexico border. And they’re doing nothing to reunite the 2,300 children in US custody with their parents. Instead they’re following their game plan, using children as bargaining chips to pressure Congress to fund Trump’s wall, cut back on visas for legal immigrants, eliminate the diversity visa program, criminalize immigrants, and block any hope for a pathway to citizenship for millions of hardworking immigrants who drive our economy, but more importantly, who call the United States home.

We are not surprised by Trump’s actions, but we are outraged and activated. From the start, this administration has attacked immigrants in rhetoric calling them rapists, criminals, thugs or animals. His actions have been aligned with this rhetoric: terminating DACA and torpedoing bipartisan efforts to provide legislative solutions to Dreamers. Step by step, he’s dismantling any hope for immigrants and people of color to be full fledged members of our society.

Clearly, he is afraid of an emerging America that is rich and diverse, colorful and complex. He’s afraid of an America that does not look like him.

But no matter how much he may fear or hate us, he can’t get rid of us. His administration is working hard to make life miserable and impossible for immigrant families. They will criminalize, they will detain, they will deport, they will terrorize, they will confiscate whatever little we may have; but they can’t get rid of us.

We are resilient. We are survivors. And we are not alone. There are millions of people that are not afraid and who will fight with us for that emerging America that is just and expansive with plenty of room, hugs and resources for those children crying at the border right now.

Hear me say this: Trump will not have the last word. He will not dictate what America is, or what it will become.

At MAF, we are doubling down. We’re helping more legal permanent residents apply for citizenship. Over the years, we have financed over 8,000 U.S. citizenship and DACA applications and are ready to do thousands more in the months and years to come. There are 8.8 million legal permanent residents eligible for citizenship right now. We want to help them naturalize, to take that first step towards being able to vote in elections to come. And we’re more determined than ever to help immigrants improve their financial lives, to help them put down roots where they live, and feel confident that they belong.

They are part and parcel of who we are as a nation and we need their dreams, their energy to keep building that emerging America.

The cries heard around the world will not go unheeded. For the children ripped from their parents arms, and the millions of people at the margins of society, we will keep fighting for freedom and dignity and respect, ever bending that arc of the moral universe MLK once mentioned – until it breaks towards justice.

With love and gratitude,

Jose Quinonez

GIVE:

Give to the legal and nonprofit organizations working to defend the rights of immigrants in the courts and provide direct support to families on the border.

  • ACLU Foundation is a nonprofit defending the civil rights of individuals. Their Immigrant Rights Project defends the rights of immigrants and is currently litigating family separation issues.
  • Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) is a nonprofit providing legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. They are helping get parents out of detention so that they can be reunited with their children.
  • Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is a national policy advocacy organization with offices in ten cities, including San Francisco and Washington D.C. KIND trains pro bono lawyers to represent unaccompanied immigrant children.
  • Border Angels is a San Diego-based nonprofit focused on migrant rights, immigration reform, and the prevention of immigrant deaths along the border.
  • Stand with Immigrant Families: #HeretoStay is MAF’s campaign to raise funds to support DACA, Citizenship, TPS and Green card applications to prevent families from getting torn apart by changing immigration status.

ADVOCATE:

Call your member of Congress to support families staying together. Demand that Congress hear asylum claims and reunite the 2,300 children already separated from their parents.  

  • White House public comment line: 202-456-1111
  • Department of Justice public comment line: 202-353-1555
  • U.S. Senate Switchboard: 202-224-3121

RALLY:

Take to the streets and join a Families Belong Together rally near you on June 30

ENGAGE:

Show your support on social media (#FamiliesBelongTogether #KeepFamiliesTogether).

 

José Quiñonez named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow


The visionary Lending Circles program brings low-income communities out of the shadows.

Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows. Among the short list of esteemed awardees is José Quiñonez, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Asset Fund (MAF). The announcement has been covered by news outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The LA Times.

The MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant,” recognizes those with exceptional creativity, a track record of achievement, and the potential for significant contributions in the future. Each fellow receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 to support awardees’ pursuit of their creative visions. Since 1981, fewer than 1,000 people have been named MacArthur Fellows. Fellows are selected through a rigorous process that has involved thousands of expert and anonymous nominators, evaluators, and selectors over the years. Past fellows have included notable individuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alison Bechdel, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“This award is a high honor that recognizes the ingenuity of people who live in the shadows, who come together to help one another to survive and thrive in life. The award lifts up what is right and good in people’s lives – the trust and commitment they have for one another,” says Quiñonez.

According to the Foundation:

José A. Quiñonez is a financial services innovator creating a pathway to mainstream financial services and non-predatory credit for individuals with limited or no financial access. A disproportionate number of minority, immigrant, and low-income households are invisible to banks and credit institutions, meaning they have no checking or savings accounts (unbanked), make frequent use of nonbank financial services (underbanked), or lack a credit report with a nationwide credit-reporting agency. Without bank accounts or a credit history, it is nearly impossible to obtain safe loans for automobiles, homes, and businesses or to rent an apartment.

Quiñonez is helping individuals overcome these challenges by linking rotating credit associations or lending circles, a traditional cultural practice from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, to the formal financial sector. Lending circles are typically informal arrangements of individuals pooling their resources and distributing loans to one another. Through the Mission Asset Fund (MAF), Quiñonez has created a mechanism for reporting individuals’ repayment of small, zero-interest loans to credit bureaus and other financial institutions. MAF participants are able to establish a credit history and gain access to credit cards, bank loans, and other services, and lending circles focused on youth provide individuals with fees for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival applications and apartment security deposits (which are particularly needed by youth aging out of foster care). All participants are required to complete a financial training class and are provided with financial coaching and peer support. Since the lending circles were established in 2008, participants’ credit scores, collectively, have increased an average of 168 points.

Quiñonez has established a network of partnerships with the financial services industry to enable other organizations to replicate his approach. With Quiñonez and MAF providing the technology necessary to disperse and track loans (a significant hurdle for many nonprofits) and assisting in securing local partners and investors, 53 nonprofit providers in 17 states and the District of Columbia are now using this powerful model in their communities. Quiñonez’s visionary leadership is providing low-income and minority families with the means to secure safe credit, participate more fully in the American economy, and obtain financial security.

Felicidades, José!

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