Velazquez Bill Would Help Communities Navigate, Apply for Benefits
Washington, DC – Throughout the on-going pandemic, families and small businesses alike have struggled to stay afloat. Today, Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) has introduced new legislation to connect community nonprofit organizations to help address the needs of families and small businesses. The Connecting Communities to Grant Opportunities Act of 2020 provides $200 million in funding for nonprofit organizational outreach to groups helping people and businesses apply for benefits provided by Congress under coronavirus-related legislation.
“For far too long, low income and underserved communities have disproportionally felt the brunt of every disaster and economic downturn our nation faced,” said Velázquez. “We have an obligation to reach out to those who are struggling and help them obtain all the aid that they are eligible for. With this bill, we are empowering underserved communities, vulnerable populations and small businesses that have not been able to apply for benefits even though they meet eligibility criteria.”
Under the proposed legislation, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will coordinate with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Small Business Association (SBA) to distribute grant funds to nonprofits in lower income neighborhoods. These organizations, in turn, perform outreach programs and hire staff to help eligible applicants or businesses for federal aid under coronavirus relief programs. To guarantee the grants will target areas in need, the grant prioritizes navigator programs in qualified low-income census tracts. This act mirrors similar measures found in the Affordable Care Act, which also provided funding to community nonprofits to enact a navigator program. The funding allowed these groups to aid families in obtaining health insurance through the federal Marketplace and Medicaid programs.
Individuals or families will be connected to and screened by navigators, employees hired under the nonprofit agencies to serve as contacts between the families and the government organizations distributing the related benefits. These benefits include provisions under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, and the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020. This includes direct assistance payments and unemployment insurance under the CARES Act
The coronavirus crisis has not impacted all communities equally. Minorities are disproportionately suffering from the economic fallout of shutdowns, as well as lessened economic traffic. Minority-owned businesses have felt the brunt of this downturn. African-Americans and Latinos in particular face the greatest struggle in accessing relief from the Paycheck Protection Program, even as their businesses and families are hit the hardest. One online survey of 500 African American and Latino-owned small businesses revealed only 12% of businesses received the assistance they filed for, and two-thirds received nothing at all.
The bill has received resounding support and has been endorsed by: Organize FL, CASA (MD, VA, PA), ActionNC, Take Action Minnesota, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Step Up Louisiana, Arkansas Community Organization, Maryland Communities United, ACCE Action California, Hoosier Action Indiana, Maine People's Alliance, Rights and Democracy (NH and VT), Immigrant Weclome Center Indiana, Promise Arizona, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and the New York Immigration Coalition.
"Month after month, as Congress negotiated pandemic stimulus and relief, too many lower income Black and Latinx residents and small businesses have been overlooked, while big corporations and moneyed interests have gobbled up funds. Rep. Velazquez's much-needed bill will fund community-based Navigators who can help our communities access the benefits and services they need to survive in these difficult times. We are proud to stand alongside her in this effort to fund community-based outreach to help underserved residents in hard-hit neighborhoods access the benefits and services that Congress has provided as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Jennifer Epps-Addison, from the Center for Popular Democracy.
"For years NPNA members have utilized navigator programs to successfully help community members access legal services and many have now leveraged their navigator models to respond to community needs during the pandemic. Millions of families are in crisis and now more than ever need trusted community partners to help them access the resources that they may be eligible to receive. For these reasons, NPNA fully supports the Connecting Communities to Grant Opportunities Act of 2020, so that all of our communities are included in the coronavirus pandemic response and needed relief,” said Nicole Melaku, Executive Director of the National Partnership for New Americans.
A pdf version of the bill can be found here.