(Image: New York Times Front Page on March 27th)

New York State’s unemployment site crashed with the almost immediate surge of New Yorkers filing for unemployment. New Yorkers living paycheck to paycheck are barely surviving in one of the most expensive cities in the United States and in limbo hoping that state resources help alleviate costs. Unemployment economically and socially affects our undocumented immigrant populations the most. 

Source: New York Times

Tax paying undocumented New Yorkers are denied access to government benefits. A taxpayer ID number is not enough to file for an unemployment insurance claim or small business loan as part of the government’s relief program, workers or business owners must hold a social security number. If a business is owned in part or wholly by an undocumented immigrant, the business is not eligible for the government’s small business loans. Therefore, unemployment is not an option for this community and are most vulnerable to the virus as they continue to work odd jobs to hopefully make ends meet.

In the Bronx, for example, almost 40% of the population are immigrants and almost three out of every ten households fall below the poverty line. Unemployment rates and wage inequalities are significant determinants in poverty rate. The Bronx holds the highest unemployment rate in the city at 4.7% and the lowest citywide median household income at $37,500. Although the Bronx is considered to be one of the poorest districts in the city, it doesn’t lack communities that push for social and structural change in the borough. Bronxites are supporting and creating organizations that prepare our unemployed and immigrant youth for higher education, jobs, and community leadership. 

Nonprofit organizations advocating for social change have informed our communities of resources available to them. People who work and are sick with the virus or have been directed by a doctor to self-quarantine are entitled to paid sick leave regardless of immigration status. NYC’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law also prohibits retaliation from business owners against employees. Employees get up to 40 hours (5 days) of paid sick leave each calendar year only if the business is composed of five or more employees. Furthermore, families can also apply to financial and food assistance for their children and will not be considered a public charge for immigrants looking to adjust their status in the future. 

As an Americorp Volunteer Coordinator and Community Outreach Associate in South Bronx United I have assisted in the service SBU provides for our community members. We offer our academy students the resources necessary to navigate middle school and highschool into college. These resources have changed into virtual tutoring sessions that have shown great success. Sara Gomez, Immigration Program Manager, coaches immigrant youth in Global Youth League and helps soccer families in the organization navigate through immigration issues and unemployment. One of the projects I helped in was two webinars hosted by the immigration program in English and Spanish with a live Q&A on resources NYC offers families and undocumented workers. Most families don’t have the choice or privilege of staying home. Therefore, in light of the current unemployment crisis, SBU staff put together a job board for all SBU families to use. Collective work and understanding community needs has helped SBU move forward with the goal of using soccer as a tool for social change.

There are many other organizations leading the way with services during this time. For instance, on the legislative level,  the New York Immigration Coalition pushes for institutional change and forces New York State to rethink the gross inequalities this pandemic has exposed. NYIC is a coalition of nonprofit organizations that serve the immigrant community in the five boroughs. They lobby in Albany for immigrant rights in education, politics, civic participation, and quality healthcare. The organization’s agenda during this pandemic is to push for the extension of cash assistance and benefits to low income immigrant community members that have been unjustly excluded from federal aid. Steve Choi, the Executive Director, suggests Governor Cuomo to invest in a future that does not leave others behind.  

Our most vulnerable communities have taken a hard socio-economic blow and prognosticated to feel the coming recession more acutely. Unemployment insurance benefits should be expanded to all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status. The City is fueled with the continuous work of immigrant populations even during a pandemic and should not be overlooked. Thankfully, organizations like SBU and NYIC are continuing to push for the expansion of these benefits and are facilitating the process of receiving government benefits. Here are other ways to help if you are able to support our local adult and young heroes striving for change in our community: 

South Bronx United

New York Immigration Coalition

And plenty more.