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San Mateo County Immigrant Relief Fund administrators say ‘need is tremendous’

Since its inception in July, San Mateo County’s Immigrant Relief Fund has awarded over $11 million in grants to immigrant families needing relief during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The fund provides grants of $1,000 to qualifying families who, due to their immigration status, do not qualify for federal assistance like unemployment benefits or a stimulus check. But as quickly as applications are approved, more arrive.

The Mission Asset Fund is one of the lead organizations coordinating the fund, along with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, Samaritan House and Faith in Action Bay Area.

Joanna Cortez Hernandez, advocacy and engagement director for MAF, said that applications continue to roll in at a steady pace.

Estimating that they receive roughly 100 to 200 pre-applications daily, Hernandez said:

“We continue to get pre-applications every single day. The need is tremendous in that community right now.”

MAF’s team reviews pre-applications and invites people to complete the application depending on available funds. They prioritize those with the most need.

Hernandez said they had received just over 25,000 pre-applications in total, as of Dec. 21. Of those, they had invited about 11,000 families to submit a full application. MAF continues to review and accept applications on a rolling basis.

As indicated by the high demand, the struggles of the pandemic are far from over for low-income immigrant families. Like many people — citizens and non-citizens alike — they face unemployment, lost wages or reduced hours. Many cannot pay for rent, food and basic necessities. Some are sole income earners with reduced hours, and many families have no income earners in their households.

Hernandez said:

“The stories are heart-wrenching. Many are talking about the wellbeing of their children and how they’re worried about not being able to put food on the table for their kids.”

Of all the financial burdens, paying rent is one of the most prevalent concerns for grant recipients, Hernandez said.

Hernandez said:

“Almost all of them have talked about rent. They worry about not being able to pay rent and not being able to have a roof over their heads.”

Initially funded by a contribution from real estate developers and philanthropists John A. and Susan Sobrato via the Sobrato Organization, the fund amassed over $13 million. San Mateo County also contributed a large chunk of the fund, as the board of supervisors allocated $4 million of Measure K funds.

The Immigrant Relief Fund is just one of the county’s various relief funds. Through Measure K, Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and private donations, the county has provided relief for tenants and small property owners, small businesses, food banks, nonprofits and more. A full list of relief funds, along with their status and usage, is available at the county’s recovery initiative website

The Immigrant Relief Fund is open to San Mateo County residents who are ineligible for CARES assistance. Applicants must also have a household income less than 80 percent of the area median income and must have lost income due to the pandemic.

Hernandez encouraged people needing assistance to apply.

Hernandez said:

“The need is very high and we are not seeing it decrease anytime soon, especially in 2021. While we still have the fund open and while we’re still accepting pre-applications, we’re also working to raise more funds.”

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