The ongoing spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to put a strain on our health and education systems and the economy. Staff shortages, delayed school reopenings, and economic hardships evoke a feeling of deja vu, draining us physically and emotionally and putting economic mobility further out of reach for everyday Americans. That fatigue can become an obstacle to public health as it may drive people not to adhere to COVID safety precautions.
Domestic workers, women, Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color, because they disproportionately play critical roles on the frontlines in our society, have often suffered the most in these moments as a result of historical and structural inequities in employment, health care, and education.
While it feels like we’re reliving the early days of the pandemic, though, we have something very different working to our advantage this time. We have learned a lot about approaches that can help mitigate COVID’s impact on vulnerable communities.
Those tools, including data, innovation, collaboration, and investment help empower local leaders and policymakers to deploy resources equitably across communities, limiting hardships. Today, government, the private sector and philanthropy must build on what’s worked and do more to dismantle longstanding barriers to mobility.
What inspires and encourages me in the face of pandemic fatigue is the passion and commitment I see from our Economic Mobility and Opportunity program partners whose efforts are leading to much-needed social and financial support, training, and broader opportunity for those most in need.
Partners like Opportunity Insights, Surgo Ventures, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Women’s Funding Network, and U.S. Digital Response are but a few who have built momentum mitigating COVID’s impact and whose initiatives exemplify strategies that can change lives.
For example, Opportunity Insights created an online economic tracker, which consolidates big data sets on unemployment claims, job postings, and consumer spending mapped against COVID infection and vaccination rates at the state, county and metro levels. Surgo Ventures updated and expanded its COVID-19 Vulnerability Index (CCVI) to leverage the power of data to understand the drivers of COVID vulnerability on disproportionately impacted populations. This work is helping close data gaps and providing decisionmakers with critical information in real time.
On the frontline of the pandemic are nearly 2.5 million domestic workers – the vast majority of them women (91.5%), immigrants and women of color -- supporting families as nannies, housecleaners, and care providers. Reaching them with life-saving information about the virus, the vaccine, and government assistance is difficult because these workers are often employed by individuals rather than institutions.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, Inc., (NDWA) uses technology on mobile devices and through a chatbot like Facebook Messenger to deepen relationships with more than 230,000 Spanish-speaking domestic workers, helping them gain mobile access to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and learn about their eligibility for CARES Act assistance. Between May 2020 and September 2021, NDWA used the chatbot to distribute over $6.5 million in emergency cash relief to 10,117 domestic workers.
The Women’s Funding Network (WFN) has a history of galvanizing an alliance of funders, gender justice leaders, and advocates to mobilize resources and raise awareness to combat systemic gender and racial inequality in communities. Because women are over-represented inindustries likely to experience declines due to the pandemic, WFN established a Response, Recovery, and Resilience Collaborative Fund to provide rapid funding to women’s organizations and women’s foundations across the country.
Our partnership helped support 16 women’s funds, impacting more than 1 million women and their families. Grantees who received funds leveraged their dollars up to 950 percent, thereby further supporting the immediate needs of women.
Through a planning grant, U.S. Digital Response (USDR) developed PAPUA (Pilot Application for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), a prototype for an application intake form to help government agencies streamline the complex benefits processes that unemployed individuals must navigate. Today, USDR has become a resource to over 230 government and nonprofit partners in 36 states and territories, providing technical assistance support in areas such as unemployment insurance.
As 2022 unfolds with what some experts say could include strong economic growth, let’s use what we’ve learned through data, innovation, collaboration and investment to ensure those facing the greatest challenges are not left out of the recovery. Instead, let’s seize this opportunity to increase mobility and place more individuals on the path to living fulfilling and dignified lives.
The foundation remains committed to serving as a catalyst in this space creating tools that tackle barriers to opportunity. The change we seek will only be realized when everyone, regardless of where they were born, their skin color or income level, can increase their social and economic mobility and secure a valued place in their community.