Aid programs focus on Roaring Fork Valley hard-hit immigrant families
A Carbondale-based nonprofit organization has found that many of the people who form the backbone of the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy are ineligible for benefits such as unemployment because of their residency status.
Valley Settlement has a long history of working with immigrant families through programs designed to boost education and assimilate newcomers into the valley culture.
The organization found in a recent survey that 87% of the households it works with have had one or more wage earners lose their job.
The mid-April survey showed job loss soared from mid-March, when a prior survey showed 51% of people out of work.
While the bleak unemployment picture might be improving slightly with the restart of construction in Pitkin County, the need for aid will continue as long as restaurants and lodging remains closed, said Sally Boughton, deputy director of Valley Settlement.
Many of the people who the organization works with are not eligible for Colorado unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks because of their legal status, according to Boughton.
“I’ve had people say they feel excluded or erased,” she said.
Pitkin County has provided economic aid to all people regardless of legal status, while Eagle County has worked well with nonprofits to provide aid, Boughton said.
“Garfield County has not done the same,” she said.
Valley Settlement has teamed with two local nonprofit organizations to provide emergency financial aid to families who would otherwise be shut out. It vetted families, provided checks and contributed $60,000 to Focused Kids, which has provided $500 checks for families in need.
Valley Settlement also is working with the Manaus Fund and Aspen Community Foundation on the La Medichi program. Eligible families receive $950 in emergency cash assistance and another $50 for a special savings account. They also have educational support on financial literacy, goal setting and budgeting as part of the program.
The collaborating nonprofits announced April 27 that another $200,000 in emergency funding was dedicated to the program — enough to help 200 families.
The programs have combined to provide more than $759,000 in aid to roughly 979 families since the coronavirus crisis struck.
Most of the families are from Garfield County and a few are from the El Jebel area, which is Eagle County.
In addition to financial aid, Valley Settlement has delivered activity packets with books and games to scores of families. It is also continuing its regular educational programs.
However, the coronavirus crisis has changed priorities. Valley Settlement’s survey of 137 participant families showed that 89% of those out of work are not getting paid by their employers and are not accessing benefits such as unemployment.
Despite the high unemployment and lack of income, 91% of respondents reported they have enough food for their families at the moment. Longtime regional food provider Lift-Up, Food Bank of the Rockies and the Roaring Fork School District have stepped up efforts to feed people from Aspen to Parachute since the health crisis erupted.
“The food response, I would say, has been robust,” Boughton said.
That could change as the economic downturn lingers. Nearly 50% of respondents said they are concerned about food security in coming weeks while 14.6% responded they might encounter an issue. Only 34% said they weren’t concerned about putting food on the table.
Another looming issue for Valley Settlement’s participating households is covering rent and other bills. About 26% of people said they need help paying rent and other bills.
“Almost all of our requests have been because of rent,” Boughton said. Many landlords are not being flexible on amount and timing, she said. They are threatening evictions or significant late fees.
Families have had trouble gaining aid from governments and even nonprofits because they cannot provide paperwork to access funds for rent aid.
In general, Boughton said the results from the two surveys indicate nerves have calmed a bit since mid-March, when jobs started disappearing and cases of COVID-19 started soaring.
“I was surprised by how many families are doing OK right now,” she said. “A lot of our families are feeling more comfortable than when we reached out in mid-March.”
Despite the efforts of local nonprofits and governments, it is an unprecedented time.
“It’s not enough,” Boughton said. “The need is greater.”
Valley Settlement estimates there are 1,900 families with undocumented head of households between Aspen and Parachute who have lost income in this crisis. The short-term need is about $2 million for those families.
The nonprofits organizations have applications from between 1,000 and 1,500 households “that right now we can’t support,” Boughton said. “We’re definitely still fundraising for it.”
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