The Fed and Main Street: The Immigrant Experience during COVID-19

The Fed and Main Street: The Immigrant Experience during COVID-19

Post by Isabel Wang.

Source: “The Fed and Main Street: The Immigrant Experience during COVID-19,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 11 June 2020.

This event hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York gathered leaders in numerous industries such as business, nonprofit, and policy to gain insights on the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and specifically immigrant workers. A large portion of immigrant workers are low-skilled essential workers yet do not have the same benefits in “healthcare, housing, economic assistance, and business support” as a citizen. This disadvantage directly leads to less support for health and financial recovery from the pandemic. As the pandemic shifts to a recovery stage, policymakers need to ensure that the recovery gives equitable resources to the immigrant community and “aim to build longer-term resilience to reduce the immigrant community’s vulnerability to the health and economic shocks” (Dr. Rosa M. Gil, CEO of Comunilife, Inc.). This event highlights the challenges of the immigrants, the solutions addressed in local organizations and home countries, as well as the effect on the immigrants’ financial wellbeing during this rough time.

The pandemic presented many challenges for an equitable recovery for immigrants. 

  • About 40% of New Yorkers are foreign-born, and over half of the city’s essential workers are immigrants. Commissioner Mostofi from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs acknowledges “pervasive barriers to health care and health access, housing, food security, and stable employment” to ensure an equitable recovery.
  • Despite their contract with the MTA, immigrant workers are paid less and not refunded for their PPE as promised, resulting in increased financial and health risks (Manuel Castro, Executive Director for grassroots organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment).
  • Gabriel Rincon, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lutheran Family Health Centers, also pointed out that there exists a trust issue between immigrants and the U.S. government and health agencies. Some immigrants fear to die in the US and thus choose to not go to the hospital and try to go back to their home countries. 
  • The Asian American community is also suffering from an increasingly open display of harassment and discrimination as a result of COVID-19. This has “created a real fear among Asian American immigrant workers to stay in or return to their jobs” and made them vulnerable and harder to employ. Landlords have even forced them out of their housing which led to street homelessness. Furthermore, there is a need for income support for small business immigrant owners to alleviate their hardships of “low cash reserves, thin margins, poor credit, and lack of documentation” (Jennifer Sun, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality).
  • Thousands of immigrant and undocumented students in NYC are facing disproportionate effects of the pandemic because of their living circumstances, lack of healthcare, and jobs.
  • Efforts are being made toward recovery but more consideration for the unique immigrant circumstances is needed to make recovery more equitable and effective.
  • Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO of O³, calls for action to the investors to provide “good loans, lines of credit, and equity crowdfunding to immigrant business owners.” The company is also helping the immigrant businesses and assisting business owners to access loans from the PPP. 
  • To address financial inclusion for immigrants, President and CEO of Inclusiv, Cathie Mahon is supporting immigrant families and businesses through expanding their community development financial institutions (CDFI) credit unions which specifically targets the needs of immigrants. Some changes include accepting different forms of IDs to open accounts, offering emergency loans for ITIN holders, providing low-interest or zero percent emergency loans, and expanding the range of financial counseling initiatives. 
  • Housing policy expert Jessica Katz, Executive Director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) notes that “NYC immigrants are more likely to be poor [and] rent-burdened.” The plan aims to enhance language access and anti-discrimination policies in housing programs and data collection to learn more about the immigrants’ needs.
  • While COVID-19 data shows disproportionally high death cases for the Hispanic population, many of those are undocumented immigrants. Also, the current data is likely underreported since immigrant information is not gathered. Federal relief programs need to be enacted “to ensure financial and health support that is broadly available” (Judith Flores, past Chair of the Board of Directors at the National Hispanic Medical Association).

Challenges that the immigrant workers face affect families in the U.S. and ones in their home countries.

  • The third-largest minority community in New York, Mexicans are also facing challenges from the pandemic. Many Mexican immigrants come from non-Spanish-speaking regions, which further complicates their assimilation in the US. Insufficient wages lead to an inability to afford health insurance which leads to limited access to healthcare, yet many have pre-existing health conditions. All of these factors contributed to the high death rate amongst the Mexican immigrant population.
  • Fortunately, the Mexican consulate is taking initiatives including mental health services, telemedicine access, and hotline services to provide support for the immigrants.

While there has been a decline in remittances to Mexico, the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement is expected to fill the gaps left by the decrease in remittances. 

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