As communities across the country respond to the public health crisis of the coronavirus, the fault lines in our economy have been laid bare. Layered on the public health crisis is an economic crisis; with states necessarily closing businesses to save lives, people are out of work and scrambling to make ends meet. While every family’s need is different, there is one constant: people need money. Money to pay the rent. Money to pay the bills. Money to buy groceries and medicine. Money to weather this storm.
As the scope of need increases, the systems in place to support people in economic precarity will be overloaded. Already, the more than 17 million recently unemployed attempting to access crucial benefits have led state unemployment websites to crash only to be met with phone lines busy for hours, and lines for emergency food relief have stretched for miles. Even prior to the crisis, many Americans were struggling to get by as wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living. As the economic crisis continues, our strained safety net will be unable to keep up without aggressive government intervention.
Importantly, while many people are receiving checks this week from the federal CARES Act, this is a one-time payment of $1,200 to eligible adults and $500 per eligible child. Data has already come out showing that most people are spending this much needed money on food. For many, this one-time payment won’t even cover a month of living expenses as we rapidly approach month two of near complete economic shutdown. That’s why we’re working to make the payments bigger, and recurring through the duration of this crisis.
While many of us are working to ensure a more robust governmental response, we’ve seen philanthropists, workers’ rights and other organizations recognizing that people need cash now — unrestricted funds they can spend as necessary on housing, food, health care, transportation and other needs. In the current crisis, unrestricted cash may allow someone to socially distance, to order food delivery when sick instead of needing to go to the store, or to pay to keep the water on so they can wash their hands — all things that help individuals as well as our larger society.
Looking to the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) and Magnolia Mother’s Trust, we know that providing people in economic precarity with cash allows them to make the right decisions for their families. People receiving money under these programs have paid off predatory debt, completed education and spent more time with their families.
The following is a rundown of some of the current programs that have quickly been put into place to give cash to those hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that lets donors send money straight to the world’s poorest people. Since 2009, the organization has delivered over $140 million in cash into the hands of over 130,000 families living in poverty.
GiveDirectly has announced a program to deliver cash to families impacted by COVID-19 in the U.S. Under this emergency response program, each family will receive a one-time cash transfer of $1,000. As of April 8, more than $2M had been transferred to almost 2,000 families. Targeting those in extreme poverty, GiveDirectly provides funds to people who were already receiving food assistance — meaning they were already struggling financially prior to this crisis and are likely to be hardest hit.
The GiveTogetherNow Fund
In response to the coronavirus, the Family Independence Initiative and Stand Together partnered to create the #GiveTogetherNow fund. The goal of the fund is to provide cash to American families struggling during the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath. As of April 8, the fund had given over $17M to more than 35,000 families.
In Illinois, several non-profit organizations collaborated to form the Illinois Cash Coalition, and developed the #GiveTogetherNowChicago fund. The fund offers a one-time $500 cash infusion to impacted hospitality workers, seniors and those with underlying medical issues to help offset the economic impacts. As of April 4, the fund had raised more than $750,000.
National Domestic Workers Alliance: Coronavirus Care Fund
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) works for respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color.
To support in-home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners during this crisis, NDWA launched the Coronavirus Care Fund. The fund provides $400 in emergency assistance to qualifying workers who are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, letting workers stay home and stay safe.
One Fair Wage: Worker Relief Fund
One Fair Wage works to ensure that all American workers are paid at least the full minimum wage from their employers. Currently, subminimum wage workers include tipped workers in 43 states, workers with disabilities, incarcerated workers and teen workers in most states. Additionally, app-based companies have been pushing for subminimum wages for their employees.
Because tipped workers and other service workers were already struggling the coronavirus and resulting economic downturn is already having a disproportionate effect on service workers — particularly undocumented workers who do not qualify for government assistance. To help support service professionals, the Worker Relief Fund will be giving $213 to workers.
United for Respect
United for Respect (UFR) is a multiracial national nonprofit organization fighting for an economy where corporations respect working people and support a democracy that allows Americans to live and work in dignity.
As the largest retail worker association in the country, UFR has launched a fund supporting the whistleblowers, strikers, and leaders who are on the front lines of retail demanding PPE, hazard pay, and other basic protective measures in places like WalMart, Target, and grocery stores. They’re working to raise $2M to support the workers who are fired and furloughed in the process of organizing.
The Workers Lab: The Workers Fund
In response to the coronavirus, The Workers Lab launched The Workers Fund, a rapid response fund to support gig and low-earning contract workers who are losing income due to COVID-19. These workers lack access to employer-based benefits and are especially vulnerable.
While we are all in this together as we weather the public health and economic crises facing our country, it is important to recognize that we are not all in the same place. For low-wage workers and those with less wealth — disproportionately women and people of color — wage loss will be especially devastating. These community members will need the full support of our social programs, as well as the freedom that unrestricted cash will provide.