A recent report from a North Carolina-based advocacy group found that the Latinx immigrants surveyed from across the state are struggling to access COVID-19 government aid.
Conducted by Siembra NC, an organization that helps support and defend Latinx immigrants “with and without papers," the survey, which was sent via text message, reported responses of 309 Latinx immigrants across 11 North Carolina counties, including Orange County.
Andrew Willis Garcés, director at Siembra, said the main goals for the survey were to figure out how to better help the immigrants whom the organization serves, and to inform policymakers about what coronavirus-related needs are not being met in Latinx communities.
“We have been hearing a lot of what are really startling and surprising stories from people who did not know how to get food access, and we saw a lot of gaps and wanted to better understand who was losing their jobs and who wasn’t,” Garcés said.
Of the participants in the survey, 69 percent reported living in a household where one or more people have lost their job since the start of the pandemic, but only 13 percent said members of their household are receiving unemployment benefits or stimulus checks.
Kattia Blanco Acuna, health & well-being department manager of El Centro Hispano, a Latinx nonprofit organization in the Triangle, said that many people the organization works with do not currently have adequate funding to cover all of their expenses.
“One of the most visible gaps is that many of our community members are ineligible for government benefits such as unemployment,” Blanco said. “This creates an additional obstacle in terms of securing funds to cover basic living expenses."
A lack of ability to pay rent was one of the main concerns of participants of the survey, with 70 percent of the participants reporting this as their number one concern, and 45 percent of participants reporting that they have not been able to pay their May rent in full.
The full report of the survey included written suggestions that participants had made for elected officials, with an "overwhelming majority" of respondents requesting officials provide financial help for bills and rent payments.
Garcés said that an inability to pay rent has been especially concerning for immigrants in Orange County and other Triangle counties because rent there is generally higher than in other parts of North Carolina.
“We expect that some of the people who are getting told by their landlords that they owe 100 percent of their rent in Orange County are going to get taken to court and we are very worried about that, because those are people who did not receive a stimulus check, and did not receive unemployment,” Garcés said.
Hannah Gill, director of the Latino Migration Project, which began as a collaboration between the UNC Center for Global Initiatives and Institute for the Study of the Americas, wrote in an email that immigrants may face unique barring from access to COVID-19 financial support.
“Immigrants are barred from many forms of financial assistance during the crisis,” Gill wrote. “The stimulus is available to taxpayers with Social Security numbers, which excludes millions of undocumented people in the country.”
Concern about a lack of food resources was another other major takeaway from the survey, with 42 percent of participants reporting that groceries were their most urgent need, and 48 percent reporting they do not know how to access aid for food in their city or county, even through public school programs.
“Some respondents noted the geographical unevenness in the food distribution or not knowing where to find them,” the report stated.
Forty-two percent of respondents also said that they wanted to wear a mask to protect themselves from COVID-19 but did not know how to obtain one.
In a press release, Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero said the report shows how Latinx people are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“This report reflects what we’re seeing in COVID-19 infection rates as well: Latinos are being disproportionately impacted, and we have to be aware of the ways different groups are being impacted in order to make sure no one falls through the cracks,” Caballero said in the press release.
Gill said she agrees Latinx people are being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those who continue to work in essential jobs.
“In North Carolina and nationwide, many Latino people are essential workers,” she said. “Meat processing plants, which continue to operate, have been ground zero for outbreaks in North Carolina, leading to illness among many immigrant workers,” said Gill.
As a result of the survey, Garcés said that Siembra NC and its members are shifting gears to provide the aid that Latinx immigrants in North Carolina are currently lacking.
“Since two of the takeaways of the survey are that people don’t have food aid and people don’t have masks, we are shifting to do more of that work basically,” Garcés said. “We’re not set up as a relief agency, but if a lot of our people are not getting either of those things then we’re trying to figure out how we can fill the gaps.”
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