The emergency funding came after a lot of pressure from organizations and worker centers like Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) in south Minneapolis.

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A host of new and expanded programs will provide emergency housing and small business assistance to Minneapolis residents and families, including undocumented immigrants.

Last Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council announced the creation of a more than $5 million gap funding package that includes everything from forgivable loans to help with utility bills. Rental assistance and small business loans are available to all Minneapolis residents who meet the criteria, regardless of immigration or documentation status.

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For the Emergency Housing Assistance program, eligible recipients must live in Minneapolis, have experienced significant income loss due to COVID-19, and have incomes that fall below 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is determined by household size. For a family of four, the income cap is $30,000. Each household is eligible to receive up to $1,500 from the program, or up to $2,000 for households facing extreme circumstances. The funding can cover rent payments, rent that’s overdue, rent that’s due within 15 days, or utilities. Payments will be made directly to landlords and utility companies.

In addition, the city is expanding its existing Stable Homes Stable Schools’ Housing Stability Fund to assist families experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Eligible families may receive $1,500 from the fund, or up to $2,000 for extraordinary circumstances. The income cap is 50 percent of AMI–or $50,000 for a family of four. Applicants must have at least one child enrolled in one of Minneapolis’s elementary schools. 

The emergency funding came after a lot of pressure from organizations and worker centers like Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) in south Minneapolis.

“We feel like even though it’s a good start and good intention, it’s still missing people who are falling through the cracks,” said Isabela Escalona, a spokesperson for the organization.

The primary concern for the majority of CTUL’s members, she said, is paying rent and those who don’t have formal leases won’t benefit from this funding.

In order for the assistance to reach everyone most effectively, Escalona said, the city should talk directly with those from marginalized communities, including undocumented immigrants, to find out what they need beyond rental assistance.

“If we’re giving businesses money and the agency to know what’s best, we also have to give that trust to individuals,” she said.

Both housing assistance programs will be administered through the Tenant Resource Center and are expected to begin accepting applications in mid April.

Help for small businesses

To assist small businesses in Minneapolis, the city’s new gap funding effort includes forgivable no-interest loans of $5,000 or $10,000, depending on need. Priority will be given to businesses that are located in designated parts of the city, have 20 or fewer employees, and make $1 million or less in annual revenue. The funds can go toward rents and mortgages, payroll and employee benefits, and accounts payable.

Self-employed people are eligible and immigration status does not impact eligibility. 

The city also is adding $100,000 to the Twin Cities Hospitality Fund, a partnership that gives micro-grants to low-wealth employees of the hospitality and service industry. This money, designed to cover basic needs, will go to hospitality workers affected by COVID-19 who apply over the phone or online. Details of the application process are still being worked out.

This funding may be especially helpful to workers who don’t qualify for the state’s unemployment insurance programs, said Wade Lüneburg, the Unite Here Local 17 union’s recording secretary.

“Because of the Minnesota unemployment insurance, that and the federal money,” he said, “that actually means the whole industry can feel somewhat supported and now we can actually focus on the undocumented.” 

The union is working to extend healthcare benefits for all of their union members, including undocumented immigrants. Many hospitality workers are unable to work right now due to the shuttering of hotels, convention centers, and sports arenas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, we’re 95 percent laid off,” Lüneburg said.

But, undocumented immigrants are some of the hardest hit because they are unable to apply for unemployment insurance.

“Many of my members by the time they collect Minnesota unemployment and then the $600 per week coming from the feds… they’re actually going to be making full wages,” Lüneburg said. “If you’re one of my undocumented members outside of the insurance, you have nothing. And if you’re in the larger industry that doesn’t have a union contract, you have absolutely nothing.”

Uncertain immigration process

Despite the new funding programs in Minneapolis, there is still a need for financial assistance and resources for undocumented immigrants, said Veena Iyer, the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, a nonprofit agency that provides legal assistance to Minnesota’s low-income immigrants and refugees. Undocumented workers were not included in President Trump’s nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill approved late last month.

Immigrants have been calling the law center concerned about renewing their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals paperwork, which is typically requested from the federal government no more than 120 days before its expiration. Due to widespread, COVID-19-related slowdowns and closures, many are facing difficulties in getting their paperwork together to receive their renewal documentation. 

While the law center is still taking appointments by phone and online, Iyer said, it’s also focused on circulating information about how COVID-19 is impacting the immigration processes. The resource tab on the law center’s website is frequently updated, sometimes multiple times a day.

“One of the things that absolutely needs to happen is an extension of various filing deadlines,” Iyer said. “Some of those things like employment authorization and visas should just be extended automatically.”

If that doesn’t happen, she said, many will miss their eligibility window for immigration benefits.

“The immigrant community, including the undocumented community, is absolutely part of the fabric of our communities and they’re also what, in fact, is making our communities resilient during this time,” Iyer said.

Sahan Journal brings you reliable and authentic news about our newest Minnesotans. To receive a weekly email with a roundup of our stories, sign up for our newsletter.

Natalie Cierzan

Natalie Cierzan is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota and staff reporter for the Minnesota Daily.