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United Way Provides Relief for Mariachis, Day Laborers and Others

Amidst the pandemic, mariachis are unable to work and many do not qualify for aid provided by the government. – Courtesy photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash

The third round of grants issued since the beginning of the coronavirus response by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles’s Pandemic Relief Fund focuses on undocumented and low-income workers throughout Los Angeles County. The series of grants will support multiple organizations providing direct relief to mariachis, day laborers, janitors and domestic workers. Additional funds will support Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services, which provide assistance to help families access stimulus funds and state-level Earned Income Tax Credit dollars that they’ve earned.

“Federal assistance has been a hard-fought lifeline for so many right now, but there remains a substantial number of our low-income working families and individuals unable to access it,” said Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “The incredible support and generosity to our Pandemic Relief Fund will help make it possible to support those in need and their families, and make sure they can qualify for help where it’s available.”

In just over two months, the Pandemic Relief Fund has raised more than $9.5 million.

The first round of grants identified immediate needs in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, supporting low-income entrepreneurs such as street vendors as well as assisting people experiencing homelessness and low-income students and their families. Following this, the Fund focused on direct supply grants to more than 100 organizations and mini-grants to 45 other community-based organizations throughout the county. Additional grants will be announced in the coming weeks.

Workers who cannot access federal support

Many working Angelenos, including day laborers, janitors, domestic workers, street vendors and mariachis, are ineligible for unemployment and other public benefits due to their immigration status. At the same time, safer-at-home regulations prevent them from working. They may be especially vulnerable to becoming homeless without the right support. Funds provided can keep food on their tables and a roof over their head. The five organizations who received grants to support the workers they serve include Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Community Power Collective, IDEPSCA (Popular Education Institute of SoCal), Inner City Struggle, and Building Skills Partnership.

“With the federal government barely acknowledging low-income immigrants’ struggles in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, support has mostly fallen on the shoulders of organizations like ours to quell anxiety over a public health crisis, to provide accurate information on prevention in multiple languages, and to provide immediate funding for food, housing, and basic needs,” said Martha Arevalo, executive director, Central American Resource Center. “With the generous funds provided by United Way of Greater Los Angeles, we have been able to increase our capacity to support our most vulnerable populations, including low-income immigrants and low-wage workers. This pandemic has proved to us that support for all is critical to the survival of all.” 

“Many workers in Boyle Heights cannot access government resources because of the informal nature of their work or because of their immigration status,” said Carla De Paz, director, Community Power Collective. “Mariachi workers from the Plaza and street vendors are struggling to pay rent and access basic necessities. These funds are helping keep some our most vulnerable neighbors housed and fed.”

“Building Skills Partnership is grateful for the generous support of United Way of Greater Los Angeles to address the immediate needs of our communities during this time of crisis,” said Luis Sandoval, interim executive director, Building Skills Partnership. “This will provide immediate relief to low-income families with no access to other benefits. Our priority is to address the rising housing insecurity by low income families with school age children.”

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Support

VITA is a free, safe way for low income families to access the funds they’ve already worked for through the California state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) and a lifeline in the face of predatory vendors. Pandemic Relief Fund grants will go to Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP), El Centro de Ayuda and Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) to provide these services. This annual program was transformed into a virtual resource to assist families during the pandemic, and is especially helpful as families seek their stimulus payments to make ends meet.

“VITA connects people with money they’ve earned through CalEITC and opens the door to financial literacy. We help families access support services like Medi-cal, Calfresh, and unemployment as they navigate the current crisis,” said Raul Estrada, executive director, El Centro de Ayuda. “This grant will give free tax preparation to an additional 440 families adding over $500,000 income to residents and directly into the local economy. We also hired 4 undergraduate students from a local university who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 to help with the additional workload.”

This phase of funding also includes grants to local organizations for capacity building, housing and the families of low income students. 

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