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CIANA Explains: How Immigrant Communities are Recovering From COVID-19

Although the number of COVID-19 cases in New York City has been declining since its peak in mid-April, the lingering economic and health consequences may be equally detrimental. The immigrant community has been disproportionately affected by the virus due to their role in essential services, barriers to healthcare, and fears around immigration enforcement and the public charge rule. However, relief programs that exclude immigrants prevent their communities from a speedy recovery.


The highest death rates were seen in immigrant communities, as well as neighborhoods with high concentrations of black and Latino people- particularly in north and southeast Queens, much of Staten Island, and the South Bronx. Although hit the hardest, immigrants are often left out of federal COVID-19 relief programs, such as the CARES Act, passed by Congress in late March, which prevented immigrants without legal status or social security numbers from receiving the $1,200 stimulus check. Even relief packages passed by NYC's own government have failed to satisfy the needs of its entire immigrant population.


Impact of the NYC Immigrant Emergency Relief Fund


In an attempt to combat the disproportionate health and economic impact of the pandemic on immigrant communities, Mayor Bill de Blasio, in partnership with Open Society Foundations, announced the Immigrant Emergency Relief Program, a plan to allocate $20 million to 20,000 undocumented workers and their families who have been affected by COVID-19-related financial trouble. This one-time emergency support payment was meant to provide eligible New Yorkers $400 per person, $800 per couple or single parent with children, and $1,000 per family.


However, since the announcement of this program in April, it has proven difficult to understand how exactly these payments are being allocated. The money is being distributed through community-based providers and various non-profits, whose names are undisclosed in order to protect the organizations, as well as the individuals receiving the assistance.


According to Bitta Mostofi, commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, there are, as of the end of June, thirty groups representing “the geography, backgrounds, and employment of New York City’s undocumented and immigrant populations” that have received funding. Twenty more could access the funds if necessary.


Some of the organizations that have been made public include: Alianza Ecuatoriana, The Street Vendor, the Laundry Worker Center, African Communities Together, Make the Road New York, Project La Colmena, and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.


While it is understandable that organizations with strong existing relationships with immigrants are trusted with distributing the funds to individuals and families, this system is challenging for those attempting to access the assistance without a relationship with an organization. For the 50% of NYC immigrants who are unemployed due to the pandemic, the Immigrant Emergency Relief Program is simply not enough.


Local Resources for NYC Immigrant Communities


In response to the lack of government support for immigrants during the pandemic, advocates and organizers across the country have picked up the slack, and are building a response that includes all community members.


Free and Subsidized Child Care


NYC is offering free subsidized child care for the children of frontline workers, staffed by members of the Department of Education and community-based organizations. Regional Enrichment Centers are places for the children of first responders (including health care providers, transit workers, and other essential workers) to “be safely cared for while their parents continue to serve the city in this time of need.” Located in most NYC school districts and near transit and healthcare hubs, these centers provide children with three daily hot meals, remote learning time, and recreational activities such as art, music, physical education, and social/emotional support.


COVID-19 Rent Relief Program


On July 16, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the COVID Rent Relief Program, a program designed to keep low-income families throughout New York in their homes by offering direct aid to tenants who lost income due to the pandemic. To be eligible, one member of the household must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status. Households will be able to apply for up to four months of rent assistance, and households with "greatest economic and social need accounting for income, rent burden, percent of income lost and risk of homelessness" will be prioritized.


Protecting the Health of Essential Workers


The threat of increased federal immigration enforcement has resulted in immigrant communities and families opting out of necessary medical services, due to the fear of putting themselves or their loved ones at risk. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published guidance for employers outlining steps they can take to protect essential workers from COVID-19 transmission.


Additional fact sheets provided to hospitals, medical centers, community health centers, and other health care facilities, explain how to prepare for and respond to enforcement actions by immigration officials as well as other interactions with law enforcement that could result in immigration consequences for their patients.


Moreover, the New York Department of Health recently issued a Medicaid Update clarifying that coverage of COVID-19 testing and treatment are included under state emergency Medicaid for those whose income is 138% or less of the federal poverty level.


Emergency Cash Assistance Program (ECAP)

CIANA is proud to participate in the Emergency Cash Assistance Program (ECAP), a citywide COVID-19 relief program run by New York Immigration Coalition, through which our immigrant clients and community members most affected by the pandemic received prepaid debit cards to purchase food, supplies, and other items necessary to get back on their feet.


ECAP card distribution on June 25.


Local Resource Links:

  • To enroll your children in the Regional Enrichment Centers, click here.

  • To find out if you or your family is eligible for the Rent Relief Program and to fill out an application, click here.

  • For a list of city services available to all New Yorkers (created in 25 different languages), click here.

  • For free or low–cost confidential immigration assistance call:

  • -----The Legal Aid Society: 1–844–955–3425 (NYC residents only)

  • -----Office for New Americans: 1-–800–566–7636 (free or low-cost legal assistance)

  • For mental health counseling, call the COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline at 1-844-863-9314.

  • For health care workers looking for 24/7 access to emotional support services, text NYFRONTLINE to 741-741.