As the Financial Assistance Program Supervisor, Lauren Silver oversees a team that connects clients with emergency cash payments to help individuals and families with the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
It has been widely reported in local and national media that low-income communities and communities of color have been most adversely impacted by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. This is certainly reflected in Marin County, where the Latino immigrant community served by Canal Alliance has been disproportionately affected by the health impacts of the coronavirus, and are also among those most impacted by the loss of jobs and wages. Many Latino immigrants work in jobs that can’t be done from home and in industries that are most affected by the shutdown, including the restaurant and hospitality industries, or as domestic workers. When the shelter in place order was first issued in March 2020, the impact of job and wage loss among our clients was immediate and devastating. Among 259 client families surveyed, 50% had lost their jobs and 70% had lost some or all of their family’s income.
As part of our organizational response to address this crisis, Canal Alliance launched its Client Support Fund to provide direct financial support to clients and community members who were experiencing financial impacts from the shutdown. To support the distribution of these funds, Canal Alliance created a new Financial Assistance Program in June 2020. Through the program, clients and community members apply to Canal Alliance for emergency support and are connected with $500 to help them cover their immediate needs and expenses. To date, more than $2.5M has been raised and directly distributed to over 4,000 households.
Overseeing the new program is Financial Assistance Program Supervisor, Lauren Silver, who previously provided community education as the Legal Outreach Coordinator with our Immigration Legal Services Team. With the onset of the pandemic, Lauren’s role shifted to support our organization’s pandemic response efforts.
According to Lauren, “shelter-in-place has significantly reduced family incomes. For households served by the Financial Assistance program, average incomes have fallen more than 75% to an average of $400 per month.” In addition, more than three-quarters of clients report that they don’t qualify for social safety net support, such as unemployment insurance benefits or federal stimulus checks. The need to the program is great, and with the new stay-at-home order issued on December 3rd, more people are out of work, resulting in a significant increase in recent applications for support.
A central goal of the fund is to connect clients with direct financial assistance as efficiently as possible while also connecting families with other types of community support. In order to accomplish these goals, Lauren and her team have had to work creatively to overcome many challenges. One significant challenge is that many clients do not have or do not use bank accounts. However, Lauren and her team learned that most people have a trusted friend or family member who has a bank account and can receive the transfer on their behalf. Another challenge was helping clients to access and use technology, such as the platform we use to send direct deposits, given that the pandemic has made it more difficult for many clients to access computers and the internet. To address this digital divide, Lauren and her team are connecting with clients virtually through mobile apps such as WhatsApp, which is a platform already used by most clients.
The success of the program also required a new partnership with the Family Independence Initiative (FII) to ensure the rapid, secure, and efficient distribution of funds. For Canal Alliance, this was a natural partnership, as FII shares an ethos of community-centered financial empowerment through direct investments to low-income families. Through FII’s financial assistance specialist technology platform, which has direct deposit functionality, funds are distributed directly to clients. Clients can access this platform directly or receive step-by-step assistance from a financial assistance specialist if they are not comfortable or able to access the platform on their own.
Through Lauren’s experience as a community educator, she is deeply familiar with the Canal community and the range of systems with which community members interface – from immigration legal services, to education and health systems. This familiarity prepared Lauren to not only oversee the efficient distribution of cash support, but also to create referral systems that effectively connect clients with support they need in other areas, such as case management for those who test positive for the virus. Lauren said, “our clients are immensely resilient and creative. I see the ways they have adapted to online learning and found innovate ways to adjust to these unprecedented times.”
More than anything, our financial assistance team embodies patience and efficiency. Lauren and her colleagues work with a large number of clients experiencing collective crisis—clients share their direct experiences of illness due to COVID-19, navigating the challenges of remote learning, job lay-offs, and deaths of loved ones. In addition to these challenges, Lauren and her team have also been witness to unprecedented needs brought on by the pandemic, such as navigating the death of a loved one and trying to manage associated costs, such as burial and repatriation fees, for which our fund has provided support.
The economic repercussions of this crisis will continue for months to come, even as we begin to focus on recovery. We are grateful for the wider community’s immense support of this mutual aid effort.
If you or someone you know needs emergency financial assistance, please apply here. Our form is available in English and Spanish.
To make a donation that will provide direct cash support to individuals and families in need, please visit our Client Support Fund page.