Several California community organizations are collectively launching a new campaign to increase participation in public and tax benefit programs from underserved communities.
In a Zoom call on Feb. 24, organizations such as The Latino Media Collaborative, Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP), and Asian and Pacific Islander Forward Movement (APIFM) — under the coordination of the California Community Foundation (CCF) — have announced the Enroll LA Campaign, an initiative to reach out to underserved Angelinos with information about eligible resources they can take advantage of, such as CalFresh and the Child Tax Credit.
“The California Community Foundation is honored to support our community partners on this effort to increase access to vital public benefits programs,” said Rosemary Veniegas, CCF senior program officer for health.
“CCF sees this as a powerful opportunity to expand access to effective programs that lift LA County’s most vulnerable communities out of poverty.”
As part of the campaign, the CCF announced a new website, enrollla.org, a guide to the numerous public benefits available to the community.
The website is currently available only in English and Spanish with other languages to come later. It directs users to centers that provide assistance in CalFresh enrollment or tax preparation, either in person or virtual.
It also provides a comprehensive FAQ on program eligibility and what families will need to enroll in each particular program.
One of the many listed centers is the Benefits Access for Immigrants Los Angeles Network (BAILA), a team of community outreach workers, legal service providers, and benefit enrollers that support immigrant families and essential workers by educating them on what public benefits they may be eligible for and providing access to legal assistance.
Lena Silver, associate director of Litigation and Policy Advocacy for BAILA, said many immigrant families are hesitant to use public benefits for fear it would affect their immigration status. In a 2020 study, Silver said three out of 10 low-income immigrant adults in California avoided using public benefits, afraid that it would impact their status.
“For everyone, not just immigrants, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths out there,” Silver said. “[There are] both ‘shame’ or ‘cultural’ values … that we really have to think about on a one-on-one basis and a group-by-group basis.”
Another problem many families face is the language barrier. Based on CalFresh enrollment data from 2017-2018, 93 percent of English speakers who were eligible had enrolled. Conversely, 58 percent of Spanish speakers, 51 percent of Vietnamese speakers, and 18 percent of Korean speakers who were eligible had enrolled.
“We’re hoping that — through the BAILA Network and our partnership with Enroll LA — we can tackle this under-enrollment in CalFresh,” Silvers said.
Nare Park, the outreach coordinator at APIFM, stressed how many families have food insecurity and the desire to increase enrollment in CalFresh. From April to December 2020, 40 percent of Latinos, 39 percent of African Americans, and 28 percent of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) households experienced food insecurity. Furthermore, only five percent of households that identify as AANHPI receive CalFresh.
“We learned through a recent focus group study in the Chinese, Filipino, Tongan, and Vietnamese communities … that many people don’t know about benefits like CalFresh, primarily because of lack of language access,” Park said, who also grew up in a family that did not know their eligibility.
“Many of the community members we work with have been impacted by the pandemic. People are facing the loss of family members, jobs [and] housing. … Making access to CalFresh a little easier can help community members to nourish themselves and focus on living their lives in the midst of uncertainty.”
Sandra Bonneville, the financial empowerment program manager at CCNP, touted her organization’s benefits such as their food security program and VITA, their free tax preparation services. She recounted how one family is receiving $23,000 back due to the various tax credits they qualified for, such as the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
“It’s not that we’re giving money out; this is money that our families have already earned,” Bonneville said. “We’re just helping them get it back into their pockets so we can reignite our community [by] bringing back all that money.”
The deadline to file taxes is April 18. For any questions about Enroll LA, call the hotline at (888) 624-4752 or email EnrollLA@calfund.org.