Across the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has extracted an enormous toll. More than 30 million unemployment claims were filed in the first six weeks of the crisis. Fifty-five million students have been forced out of school. Families are facing the unprecedented challenge of educating their children at home while also struggling to earn a living and pay the bills.
In Los Angeles, a group of over 20 community organizations, convened by the nonprofit Great Public Schools Now, has responded by rallying civic partners and donors to help. Through the new One Family LA program, GPSN and its partners are providing direct financial assistance to families in the Los Angeles United School District facing severe economic hardship. I spoke to Ana Ponce, GPSN’s executive director, about One Family LA and how it’s aiding students and families in the city’s most underserved communities.
Can you tell me about the idea behind One Family LA?
The idea was simple – we wanted to create an opportunity for Angelenos to support vulnerable communities by leveraging the network of our nonprofit partners to collectively fundraise and deploy funding directly to low-income families in need. This is about people caring about others at a time when they are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table.
How is the program helping vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis?
One Family LA provides some immediate relief to families by covering basic necessities like rent, food, transportation and medical care. These families were already living paycheck to paycheck before the COVID-19 crisis, so when they faced reduced work hours or worse - complete job loss - they didn’t have any savings to pay for the basic needs of their family.
How did the program get started?
In mid-March, when schools were closed and social distancing orders were pending, a group of us recognized that the economic impacts of COVID-19 would disproportionately impact low-income and immigrant families. We knew the nonprofits in our network would have a large number of families affected by the pandemic.
We also knew they would be willing to do whatever possible to support their families. So on March 14, we began reaching out to these nonprofits to join One Family LA in a collective fundraising effort committed to deploying every dollar raised directly to families. Two days later, we launched with over 20 partner organizations.
Our families have been struggling to survive the pandemic of poverty for years. Some were on the edge of poverty and COVID-19 pushed them over.
Who are you reaching through the program?
The most vulnerable are low-income and immigrant families, especially those unable to access government assistance. Many are nannies, gardeners, house cleaners, restaurant workers, and any others employed in industries where working from home is not an option. The primary request for assistance has been to purchase food and subsidize rent. On average, One Family LA provides $300 per family.
What kind of stresses do these families face under normal conditions – and how have those been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis?
Our families have been struggling to survive the pandemic of poverty for years. Some were on the edge of poverty and COVID-19 pushed them over. But for far too many, they were already over the edge. Many families, especially those living in areas where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food, are disproportionately feeling the impacts of COVID-19.
The run on food and supplies has not only made it difficult for them to access these items, but has also forced families to spend more of their limited financial resources on more expensive food.
Right now unprecedented circumstances have required us to provide for the basic needs of our families and students.
How does One Family LA help advance the mission of Great Public Schools Now?
Our mission is to invest in schools, organizations and initiatives that catalyze excellence in public education and increase the number of great schools for all kids in Los Angeles. One Family LA was an unanticipated initiative, as was the COVID-19 crisis, but it exemplifies the power of collective action.
Right now unprecedented circumstances have required us to provide for the basic needs of our families and students. Over the long term we are going to leverage the collective action exemplified by One Family LA to advocate for solutions and policies that ensure these students have access to high-quality education in spite of this crisis.
Why is this program important to you personally?
My family is an immigrant family. I remember the struggles we went through when we came to this country. We were living paycheck to paycheck. Our family would have been hit hard by a pandemic like this one.
We know the hardship families are facing, but it becomes much more real when you hear details like a family struggling to decide whether they are going to buy groceries or pay a cell phone bill, which provides the only internet access to the family. Internet access is the educational lifeline right now for students who are trying to keep up with their education from home. Through our financial support, our families experience some relief and have some hope. Their hope inspires me that we can make a difference.
Great Public Schools Now is a Walton Family Foundation grantee.