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As the coronavirus pandemic intensifies in the United States, a staggering number of workers have seen their wages severely reduced or cut off completely. Small businesses are shutting down around the country, and last week more than 3 million Americans lost their jobs. The $2 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that the US Senate passed Wednesday—and which the House of Representatives also approved today—includes a one-time, $1,200 payment to tax payers who reported less than $75,000 in income. It also expands unemployment insurance and includes grants for small businesses, among other funding. Notably, corporations such as airlines will still be one of the package’s biggest beneficiaries, with some restrictions.
It’s unclear how much this will help those who had been living paycheck to paycheck before this. Without fundamental changes, the most marginalized folks in our society will disproportionately experience the ripple effects of the coronavirus economy. This is especially true for those who are already experiencing homelessness, or are undocumented and unlikely to benefit from the bill.
Many activists and community groups have already learned that they cannot depend solely on their governments to help protect their communities in disastrous times. Organizations around the country have established their own funds, with the aim of covering those who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Below is just a sampling of high-impact collectives that need your contributions to help vulnerable people—including service workers, undocumented folks, people of color, and LGBTQ communities—survive this crisis.
The organization One Fair Wage has created an emergency fund specifically to help service workers—including restaurant workers, delivery workers, car share drivers, and more—whose wages and employment have been decimated by the pandemic. Many of these folks depend on tips to support themselves; some work in states where they can be paid as little as $2.13 per hour. States and municipalities are increasingly limiting restaurant business to delivery and takeout, and employees who cannot work are unlikely to get paid time off. One Fair Wage grants go directly to workers, who can request assistance online; grantees are chosen based on availability of funds and a follow-up interview.
The Restaurant Workers Community Foundation focuses on increasing the quality of life for restaurant workers across the country, with a three-pronged mission of advocacy, grant creation, and restaurant industry investment. Half of their coronavirus-specific funds will go directly to restaurant workers further marginalized by the pandemic, while 25 percent will go to nonprofits that serve restaurant workers. The remaining 25 percent will fund zero-interest loans to restaurants seeking a jump-start once the outbreak is contained. Folks can apply for funds through a self-nomination process; the highest priority will be given to those struggling with medical issues.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance has set up a Coronavirus Care Fund for folks who work as nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers. These workers are likely to be uninsured, lack paid leave, and experience job insecurity—largely because of a lack of legal protections and job benefits. The NDWA fights to undo the damage of the National Labor Relations Act, which has excluded domestic workers from unionizing and collective-bargaining privileges since the 1930s. Its Coronavirus Care Fund was created to provide a financial safety net for many unprotected domestic workers, so they don’t have to choose between a paycheck and the health and safety of themselves, their families, and their clients; each individual grant is $400. The first round of qualifying applicants are those who have had previous affiliation with NDWA and its sister organizations; after more money is raised, all unaffiliated domestic workers can apply.
Make the Road New York understands that immigrant and low-income communities—to which it offers adult literacy programs, legal advocacy, civic and youth programming, health care access, and other services—were already struggling before the pandemic. Undocumented people may also fear—with good reason—that they will be detained if they try to seek medical care. The organization’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund will provide direct financial support to low-income and immigrant families, as well as ongoing advocacy efforts.
Queer communities are made up of folks who exist at multiple intersections of marginalization and are therefore especially vulnerable right now: Those who are trans or intersex; black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); or a combination of identities are disproportionately susceptible to workplace and housing discrimination, and therefore poverty and homelessness. A group of activists and educators based in New York City and the Los Angeles area started this fund, which prioritizes those who work in the gig economy or service industry, are immunocompromised, have disabilities, or are living with chronic illness. According to the group’s philosophy—which avoids labeling any person in need as more deserving than another person—there are no qualifying measures for grant recipients besides self-nomination. “We are choosing to trust the people,” they write. “We are not social workers and we refuse to replicate that position and dynamic.”
The Brave Space Alliance, a black- and trans-led LGBTQ center, is running a Covid-19 food pantry on the South Side of Chicago. They are accepting donations of both money and food (either dropped off at the office, or purchased through their online wish list) for the duration of the pandemic, and will be prioritizing recipients who are sick, have disabilities, are losing income or do not have paid leave, are elderly, undocumented, or are black, brown, or Indigenous. Volunteers can also sign up to help run the food pantry, picking up donations and delivering food to those in need. Brave Space Alliance is also offering a few of their previously in-person services online, including trans support groups and financial and government consultations.
Movie theaters have been deemed a nonessential business by state governors and mayors of various cities who have ordered residents to “shelter in place.” This fund was created by film programmers, filmmakers, and the online publication Screen Slate to support furloughed or laid-off workers in New York City who have not received paid leave in the aftermath of theater closures. According to the fund’s gofundme page, every $3,000 raised will support five grant recipients for a week, at the rate of $15 per hour for 40 hours.
Migrant communities live in precarity, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy and the so-called Safe Third Country agreement. Al Otro Lado, a legal services nonprofit working in Southern California and Tijuana, Mexico, started the Humanitarian Migrant Fund to support frontline grassroots organizations serving asylum seekers, deportees, and other migrants in cities along the US-Mexico border. The money raised will provide these communities with emergency housing, food, medications, baby formula and diapers, toiletries, and other basic needs—all of which are even more desperately needed during this pandemic.
The representatives behind emergency funds know that many folks were struggling long before the crisis, and will be struggling long after—unless we can make permanent structural change. Stay-at-home mandates have forced organizers to find creative ways to engage the communities they usually serve face to face, and workshops, gatherings, and other outreach events are gradually becoming virtual. The Social Justice Fund, based in Seattle, set up a Covid-19 Crisis Fund to serve grassroots community organizing in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington state, helping them to provide income assistance, help cover medical costs, offer emergency food and shelter, and fund ongoing anti-racist and antidiscrimination campaigns during the pandemic.
The Disability Justice Culture Club is a collective based in Oakland, California, run by disabled and/or self-described “neurodivergent” queer people who support members of their community and others in need. They regularly help set up care networks of able-bodied volunteers to assist folks with unique needs by delivering food, running errands, or picking up medication, and have now started a Covid-19 fund to provide extra assistance to the people they serve on a regular basis. The group also organized volunteers to create and distribute “care kits” for those experiencing homelessness, with each kit containing homemade hand sanitizer, disinfectant, a vitamin mix, an N95 mask, and gloves. Financial contributions will go toward supporting queer BIPOC folks in the East Bay who may be out of work, immunocompromised, and unable to risk exposure to acquire food and other essentials, as well as supporting those who have difficulty seeking or cannot seek medical attention.
The Latino Community Foundation, based in San Francisco, established the Love Not Fear Fund to support Latino-led organizations that primarily support elderly undocumented immigrants and other residents living in the Central Valley and Inland Empire regions of California—many of whom would otherwise be left out of state- and federally funded relief efforts. One grantee provides grocery shopping services, while another provides food directly to elderly folks. The fund will also support educational development for immigrants and their families, and help them weather downsizing and layoffs brought on by shelter-in-place orders.
The number of new coronavirus cases may be growing faster in Louisiana than anywhere else on earth. The crisis is especially acute in New Orleans. To counter that, a collective of organizers in that city has created an emergency fund to support local working-class residents during the pandemic. With the help of financial contributions and a network of volunteers, New Orleans residents who are elderly, immunocompromised, or work in hospitality can self-nominate to receive grocery and prescription deliveries.
The collective believes—as many of us do—that the current crisis has further surfaced the inequities of capitalism, profit, property, health care, and white supremacy. Countering these disparities will require us to redistribute resources and help carry each other past this crisis.