This is a time of immense challenge for us all. We worry about long term impact to the economy, growing unemployment rates, an overburdened healthcare system, and what extended school closures will mean for vulnerable families. These challenges are most acute for hourly and low-wage workers. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 2 in 5 people didn’t have the savings to weather a loss in income. Now, some economists are predicting that Massachusetts’ unemployment rate could hit as high as 25% by June. For reference, the highest unemployment rate during the 2008 recession was 10%.
It’s now more important than ever for us to come together in support of economically vulnerable people in our local communities. Our actions — on both a local and regional level — will create ripple effects that determine how our nation faces this public health crisis collectively.
On Friday, March 13th as we watched schools and businesses begin to close, United Way leaders launched the COVID-19 Family Support Fund with the knowledge that in the coming weeks and months, economically vulnerable individuals and families would need our support. Because we built off our Family Fund, we were able to launch quickly and give our partners maximum flexibility to meet the specific needs they were seeing in their communities. The fund launched that weekend and produced its first grants just four business days later. Since then, we’ve distributed funds weekly, totaling nearly $1.5M and growing weekly.
“I am so amazed and grateful that United Way was able to mobilize so quickly,” says Melissa Dimond, President & Executive Director of Gloucester-based Wellspring House, Inc.
From mid-March through mid-April, United Way has distributed more than $1.5M to 70 community-based nonprofit agencies across the region who have a proven track record of administering flexible emergency assistance for families impacted by income disruption. In addition, we are in the process of launching half a dozen city-based funds with local mayors and councils, including Lynn and Chelsea, two cities the CDC rates as extremely vulnerable in a disaster such as this.
We continue to do what we have always done best – mobilize our broad network of public and nonprofit sector partners and generous individuals across the region to support those who need it most. “We are so grateful to the United Way for moving so quickly and making these critical funds available to families in this time of unprecedented need. We really appreciate the support,” Christine Dixon, Executive Director of Roxbury-based Project Hope.
Here are five ways that we are targeting the COVID-19 Family Support Fund to some of our most vulnerable populations during this pandemic:
Increased food distribution
With schools closing and a surge in families experiencing income loss, the demand for food assistance is higher than ever. Before the pandemic, 1 in 11 people in Massachusetts struggled with food insecurity. Post COVID-19 pandemic, numbers now climb daily as more than 300,000 students who relied on school meals for half their nutrition stay home. That’s why we are prioritizing both food pantries and after-school programs such as the Weymouth Food Pantry, Chelsea Hunger Network, Beverly Bootstraps, The Open Door, Gather, Catholic Charities, and many YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs across the region.
Relief for hourly workers
For many hourly, low-wage, and gig-economy workers, a regular paycheck may not be a reality for some time. A MassINC poll just 10 days into closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that people who make less than $50,000 were some of the first and hardest hit. That’s why we’re focusing our support on organizations that can provide direct and immediate relief such as BEST HTC. BEST HTC quickly set up a hotline to reach over 10,000 hospitality and airport workers who were laid off or soon will be, to provide help applying for unemployment insurance and other support.
“BEST is overwhelmed with gratitude for the support we received from United Way. United Way swung into action to support those in need before anyone else. We are hearing the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry every day in personal stories from our clients. We are so grateful for these funds,” said Joan Abbot, Assistant Director at BEST
Other nonprofits receiving funds to support laid-off workers include East Boston Social Centers, CONNECT, Community Action, Inc. and Lawrence CommunityWorks, who are providing emergency assistance to laid-off child care providers, restaurant workers, service workers and people who cannot work because of sick parents or children, and Wellspring House which operates a hotline to provide support to laid-off retail, restaurants, hotels, housekeeping, family child care, and other settings.
Assistance to domestic violence survivors
On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in place, survivors are suddenly isolated in a confined space with their abuser day after day and these incidents of domestic violence are skyrocketing. It’s so bad that the United Nations has called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on Twitter. United Way has put emergency financial assistance in the hands of survivors through ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence), HAWC (Healing Abuse Working For Change), Elizabeth Stone House, and Casa Myrna.
We are grateful to United Way for their support and such a speedy response! You all know how to take action,” Dawn Sauma, Co-Executive Director, Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
Support for people experiencing homelessness or with compromised immune systems
People who are immunocompromised are at a much higher risk of getting seriously ill from the COVID-19 pandemic. Those experiencing homelessness face a different, but related risk of getting sick as they live in close quarters. As a result, organizations serving these populations are ramping up to get food and supplies to people where they are. United Way has prioritized organizations like Victory Programs working with those living with HIV/AIDS and FamilyAid Boston, MA Coalition for the Homeless, Somerville Homeless Coalition, and others.
Help for immigrants and non-English speakers
At a time when information is vital, a language barrier can make it nearly impossible to understand restrictions, apply for assistance, and seek support. While some information is being translated into languages such as Spanish and Chinese, there are more than 350 languages spoken in the U.S. – many of which are unaccounted for. This means people may be missing out on essential medical advice, putting them at a greater risk of contracting the virus. Several organizations that serve diverse immigrant populations, such as Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), International Institute, and Quincy Community Action Programs will receive funding to provide relief and assistance – especially to those who have lost hours/work and may not qualify for other types of assistance.
Inspired to give back? Help support these organizations by donating to our COVID-19 Family Support Fund.
Here’s where your donations have been distributed so far:
Asian Community Development Corporation
Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence (ATASK)
Cambridge Family & Children’s Service
Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc.
Council of Social Concern
East Boston Social Centers, Inc.
Everett Haitian Community Center
Heading Home Inc
Housing Families Inc.
Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation
Jewish Vocational Services
La Alianza Hispana, Inc.
La Comunidad, Inc.
Latinos Unidos en Masschusetts, Inc
Metro Housing Boston
More Than Words
Mystic Valley Elder Services
Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment/Boston OFE
Somerville Homeless Coalition
The Elizabeth Stone House
The Neighborhood Developers / Chelsea Connect
United South End Settlements
West End House
Catholic Charities Boston
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell
Community Action, Inc.
Lawrence Community Works, Inc.
Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Inc.
International Institute of New England
Healing Abuse Working for Change
New American Association of MA, Inc.
The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
The Open Door
Wellspring House, Inc.
Cross Roads House
Homeless Center For Strafford County
Seacoast Family Promise
Seacoast Mental Health Center
Society of St Vincent de Paul Exeter
Southern New Hampshire Services, Inc.
The Upper Room, A Family Resource Center