To hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and their families, a DACA permit represents hope. Hope for jobs, for family security, for a future worth fighting for. The threat of losing DACA has placed young people in a vulnerable financial position that’s keeping them and their families up at night. We asked DACA recipients across the nation: “Currently, what are your family’s top financial concerns?” 433* DACA recipients answered. Here’s what they said:

58% of DACA recipients worry about not being able to work

As demonstrated in MAF’s Hierarchy of Financial Needs, a stable income is the foundation of financial security. Income is essential to realizing your economic potential. Yet 58% of DACA recipients we surveyed are worried about not being able to work because of their legal status and 57% are worried about their family’s ability to cover basic living expenses. Maintaining economic stability is a top concern for them.

Here are the top areas of concern DACA recipients identified:


DACA recipients value opportunities to secure stable, quality employment

DACA recipients shared many different concerns with us openly through the survey about their education or how they might lose their jobs. We also heard from survey respondents that many of them are turning to self-employment as a means of supporting themselves.

With increasing ICE raids and mixed-status families being separated, DACA recipients have a lot to worry about. Yet we continue to be  are also remarkable in their resilience and creativity. This data helped MAF realize we can help DACA recipients secure stable, quality employment by providing programmatic support to help around starting their own businesses and working for themselves.


*For this particular question, respondents selected up to 13 answers that applied to them.

In “DACA=Better jobs, stable families,” we explored the impact that DACA has on job opportunities and family security. With a work permit and the ability to get education, it’s no surprise that DACA recipients are able to get better quality jobs and have a greater sense of belonging in the U.S. We wanted to dig deeper into the realities inside homes and living rooms across the country:

  • What roles do people with DACA often play in their families?
  • What impact does DACA have on their families?

So we asked DACA clients: “In the past 6 months, have you supported your family financially or helped them access resources in any of the following ways?” We provided nine options and an invitation to select all that applied. We received 431 responses clients, including one that indicated the respondent did not help support their family.

97% of DACA recipients said they support their family – most often by helping pay for household expenses

Nearly all of DACA recipients said they were helping their family financially or get access resources. The most common type of support? 74% contribute to household bills and other regular monthly expenses. Among many other sources of financial support, DACA recipients often also supported their family in non-financial ways. For example, 44% of respondents said they drove family members who don’t have a driver’s license.


The Multiplier effect: DACA recipients frequently open doors for their family members

As you can see below, DACA recipients described in their own words how much their families relied on them – for finances, transportation and more. We heard from recipients that DACA allowed them to access resources to support other members of their family and network. That in fact, DACA has a multiplicative effect: providing one person with protections and work permits impacts everyone they support financially and otherwise.

Our takeaway: personal financial security is not just about the individual. It’s closely linked to the financial security of your family, friends and community

This research shows us that there’s a very powerful social and familial network effect with DACA. When we research the effect a government program or immigration status has on one person, we also must think about the family. Especially when so many of our families are mixed status, better governmental protection and even an intermediate status like DACA can have a very positive effects on entire family networks. At MAF, this is leading us to think more about how we can support families in growing their collective financial wellness. Because engaging and leveraging your social network is an important and viable strategy for managing financial lives.

 

$460 billion. That’s the estimated value that DACA recipients add to our GDP. In addition to the well-known economic impacts to our country, there is a good amount of research about the positive benefits the DACA program has provided to its 790,000 DACA recipients and their families. MAF was humbled to have the opportunity to help over thousands of DACA recipients with fee assistance grants to make sure cost didn’t stand in the way of protection. We know DACA is crucial but we wanted to hear about it directly from our clients. We invited them in a survey to:

  • Explain how DACA helped them (442 responses)
  • Share stories about how DACA helped them, their family or their community. (363 responses)
  • Share stories about how the administration’s announcement to end DACA had an impact on them, their family or their community. (379 responses)

60%+ said DACA helped them get better quality jobs

DACA has been instrumental in helping our clients access better professional opportunities, from getting better quality jobs to pursuing career goals and educational opportunities. DACA recipients said they found jobs with better pay and improved working conditions, opened businesses or had fulfilling long-term career opportunities. For example, one client, a 20-year old from Texas, told us how DACA enabled her to get a social security number, opening the door to a career in nursing. DACA has helped me pursue my nursing career. I participated in a CNA program in high school, but after I graduated I was unable to take my test because I did not have a Social Security Number. After being qualified for DACA, I was able to get my CNA license, work as a CNA, and now continue college classes working towards becoming a RN.-20 year old, Texas

 

64%  said DACA helped them better support their families

With a median of 4 people to a household, better jobs and educational opportunities mean more stable families. I am the eldest of four children. My father worked odd jobs just to make sure we were stable. After I received DACA, I graduated high school, I got the chance to go to college, and now I have a well paying job to be able to help my father sustain our family. We went from barely getting by to having what we need to a little more and all thanks to DACA.” – 20 year old, California󠁵󠁳

48% said DACA gave them a greater sense of belonging to the U.S.

It’s no surprise that DACA recipients experience life in the U.S. as both insiders and outsiders – integrated into society to a certain degree but not able to have the same opportunities and privileges as their peers. Receiving legal and workforce protection often helped unlock dreams and goals. DACA gave me more confidence in myself. It showed me that the opportunities are right there, all I have to do is work hard and thrive for what I want to become. DACA is an ally to the undocumented students. Not only do I feel safe with DACA but it also gave me a lot of strength on not giving up, -19 year old, California

With the threat of losing DACA, clients are very worried about losing everything in their home and having to start over

Hundreds wrote responses about how tangible their losses would be: loss of financial stability, employment, education, peace of mind, or a sense of confidence and belonging. People are worried about how they’d struggle to adapt to culture and learn the language of their country of birth, if they had to leave. 

 

Still, many voiced resilience and positivity, expressing confidence in the strength of their communities and certainty that they could find opportunity in what lies ahead, like this 24 year old from California:

“Speaking of all the 800,000 dreams and DACA applicants, we’re not afraid. We don’t give up this easily. We represent the future of this country. We are the U.S. and we are helping this first world nation succeed economically and financially. We’ve worked so hard to be where we stand at this moment. Our parents left everything behind for us to have a better future, a better education, a better life. The decision [to rescind DACA] has made us stronger than ever and it has given us the tool to not stop reaching our goals.”

 

📊 MAF Lab: R&D for social good

It goes back to the earliest days at MAF, when Lending Circles was not yet a program available across the nation and when the conversation about financial capability only centered around savings. Our founders knew that to create programs and services that actually made a difference, you had to orient yourselves in the realities of people’s lives. That it matters where and how you design programs.

We get up in the morning to build programs that actually empower clients. To us, that means we don’t see clients as the problems that need to be solved.

What first started as side project – a relatively small participatory action study we called the Immigrant Financial Integration Initiative – has now become a distinguishing approach for the entire organization. This practice of listening is a core principle behind design thinking – a process that ensures that we are addressing users’ needs, building on their strengths, and creating products that will ultimately have real impact for the communities we serve.

That’s why we’re evolving our technology team into a Research and Development Lab: an innovation unit within MAF to build better programs and products to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

The goals of the MAF Lab are to:

  • Uncover pressing unmet needs of the communities we serve
  • Understand the practices, relationships, and resources of these communities
  • Expand the types of financial needs supported through MAF’s programs and products
  • Improve the relevance and usability of programs and products to address users’ needs
  • Share our research and experiences with other organizations
  • Provide research, design-thinking, and technology services to leading nonprofits, foundations, and corporations
The author (R&D Lab Manager) and UX/UI Designer test a prototype with a client in MAF HQ

MAF’s R&D process focuses on empathy and engagement with communities who are often left behind.

This approach involves conducting research to understand users’ needs and building programs and products to meet those needs. We’re bridging the best of the nonprofit and fintech worlds:

  • Our clients are diverse. We build products for people who are often left out of tech developments and formal financial markets.
  • As a direct services provider, we have a close relationship with our clients, so we build empathy with our users quickly and deeply.
  • We have the skillset to do our own user research in multiple languages, which allows clients to be heard and represented throughout our process.
  • Unusual for a nonprofit, we have the expertise in-house to conduct rigorous quantitative research – and use these emerging insights to inform our strategy and development.

With a strong track record of using best practices in research and design, launching the MAF R&D Lab will allow us to do more…and faster. Here’s what a typical process looks like for our team:

A virtuous research & development cycle means we research to assess strengths, understand needs, and then build products to leverage those strengths to meet those needs. But it doesn’t stop there. More research helps us assess how well our products are meeting those needs. That’s how we determine what’s missing or what needs to be refined.

For example: immediately following our 2017 DACA campaign, MAF launched a survey to program applicants to better understand the community of DACA recipients. We analyzed the data and are using it to launch new programs to help meet the financial needs that emerged from the survey (we even tested these programs with target community members first to make sure we got it right). We didn’t just use these insights internally – we shared the survey results with our funders and clients for their input. We’ll be sharing them on this blog in the coming weeks. This is the type of work that the R&D Lab will continue to do more of to better serve our clients and help peer organizations get access to information to help them better support their clients.

We’ve made a few changes to the team to help us evolve. The R&D Lab team recently moved out of MAF’s main office and into our own space, which we call Design Hub.

Our new office has helped us carve out a space to incubate products for the long-term (and gives us an excuse to draw all over the walls in the name of ideation). We’ve also increased our capacity to achieve an ambitious agenda that includes releasing a native mobile app this year and launching new loan programs. To shorten the sprints between designing and testing prototypes, we brought our design team in-house and trained ourselves in user research and testing. That meant investing in staff to help us collect and analyze more user data – and to reduce the build time of our tech developments. We have assembled a team of creative and data-savvy MAFistas to build products that matter to our clients.

Our team is bolstered by the support of our Technology Advisory Council, made up of seasoned leaders from tech companies advising us on all aspects of tech developments. The R&D Lab brings together MAF’s strengths as a direct service nonprofit, a financial services provider, a data-driven tech organization, and a force of social innovation.

Ultimately, the strength of the MAF R&D Lab comes from the trust we’ve built with clients. It’s trust that encourages them to open up about their dreams and fears. We will preserve that trust by continuing to ground our work in MAF’s values of respecting and empowering our clients.

 

In September 2017, MAF launched the nation’s largest DACA fee assistance program serving 7,600 Dreamers across the country. In a series of blog posts, we’ll share information about who we served and what we’re learning about the financial lives of DACA recipients after launching a survey to thousands of DACA clients.

MAF’s DACA fee assistance program supported 1 in 10 DACA recipients in California in fall 2017

When the current administration announced that DACA was ending, MAF pivoted to respond to an urgent need. Within days, we launched a DACA Renewal Fee Assistance program to provide grants of $495 to individuals eligible to renew their DACA work permit by the October 5 deadline. Within 4 weeks, we helped 5,078 DACA Recipients (by January of 2018 that number rose to 7,600). In September and October 2017, we helped nearly 7% of all those who submitted an application to USCIS to renew their DACA – and 1 in 10 DACA recipients who lived in California.

We provided emergency relief to high-need clients: 89% of 2017 DACA fee assistance applicants came from low-income families

Mirroring the national distribution of all DACA recipients, 57% of MAF’s clients who we served in 2017 identify as female and the typical fee assistance recipient was 23 years old. Around 89% of recipients came from low income¹ families; the median annual household income was $24,000 for a household of 4.

Get to know MAF’s 2017 DACA fee assistance recipients:

DACA recipients served came from 44 states and hailed from 71 countries:

 

Listening to community is crucial to good program design

Even though the DACA fee assistance program was time-limited, we knew that we wanted to continue to build programs to support this community of DACA recipients and their families. In addition to capturing demographic data for each client, we fielded a survey² – in English and Spanish – to all 5,078 fee assistance applicants who applied in 2017 to better understand their emerging needs.

This survey builds on past research and drills down into financial needs and aspirations

Building on past research about DACA recipients conducted by Tom Wong and United We Dream, our survey was designed to ask applicants questions to learn about:

  • How receiving DACA had helped them
  • How our respondents used DACA to support their families
  • Applicants’ top financial concerns for themselves and their families
  • Our respondents’ personal, financial, and career aspirations
  • Applicants’ experience with and feedback on different aspects of MAF’s program

At the end of the 2-week survey period, we received 447 responses for an 8.8% response rate. About 6% of those responses (26 responses) were in Spanish.

In general, our survey respondents closely matched our applicant population, with a few exceptions. Similar to other online surveys of this community, we received higher a survey response rate among females: 63% of people who responded to our survey were female, compared to 57% of MAF’s clients. We also tended to receive more responses from a slightly older age group: 55% of survey respondents were over 23 years old compared to 45% of MAF’s clients.³

Sharing insights means using community voices to move financial services forward

This survey gave us rich insights about our program applicants – their dreams and their fears. In the following blog posts, we will be sharing insights we heard and the data points we collected. We’ve also been using the data to inform our own work. We are excited to share these insights as part of our ongoing strategy to listen to the communities we serve – and share their stories with the partners we work with. In upcoming blog posts, you’ll get to learn more about how our programs are meeting the needs we uncovered through research.

Based on this survey data, we’re launching new programs to help clients access quality employment, pay for immigration-related application fees, and build credit and financial security.

 

¹ “Low income” here means that the recipient’s household income is below 80% of the Area Median Income for households of the same size in their county. Data for Area Median Income comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 database.
² We conducted the survey in October 2017 with a 12-item instrument that included eight closed-ended and four open-ended items. We sent an initial email to all clients and one follow-up email reminder those who hadn’t completed the survey.
³ We are only reporting on statistically significant differences with at least a medium effect size.

Mission Asset Fund is excited to launch new zero-interest, credit-building loans available throughout California to cover the USCIS filing fees for U.S. Citizenship ($725), DACA Renewals ($495), Green Cards ($1,225), Temporary Protected Status ($495), and Petition for Immigrant Relatives ($535). Eligible individuals can apply now at bit.ly/MAFheretostay

We were inspired by the insights we’ve collected from our community

Over the years, we’ve maintained a commitment to building programs designed by and for our community.

Most recently, following the administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September of 2017, we responded to a very immediate financial emergency as families scrambled to come up with the $495 necessary to cover the USCIS filing fee. Over the course of a few months, we were able to issue over 7,500 grants to DACA recipients totaling $3.8M+ across the country to cover the USCIS renewal filing fee. We’ve also continued our financial coaching work at the Mexican Consulates in San Francisco and San Jose, and we’re in the process of launching several new mobile apps and resources like our Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants.

 

 

Through our work with immigrant communities over the past year, we’ve deepened our understanding of the top financial concerns and priorities for individuals, regardless of immigration status. We’ve learned about the importance of financial security and access to capital in moments of emergency. We’ve learned about the financial burden that USCIS filing fees can present to families, preventing a large number of eligible individuals from securing immigration protection. We’ve learned about the need for secure and stable employment for individuals to cover basic living expenses and provide for their families.  

We’ve used these insights to inform the next chapter of our work. If you’re interested in learning more about our research insights, stay tuned for a blog series from our Research & Development team detailing some of our key findings from a survey we conducted with DACA recipients.   

Learn more about the programs and spread the word

We’re excited to begin offering a series of new loan programs in California that facilitate pathways to immigration protection and stable employment for individuals and their families.

 

 

Here are some next steps you can take:

1. Watch the recording of our webinar.

Learn more about the enrollment process and how to apply. Share the video with your community and other non profit organizations throughout California!

2. If you live in California, apply for a loan to finance your USCIS application.

Need help financing your USCIS application fee for U.S. Citizenship, DACA Renewals, Green Card, Petition for Relative, or Temporary Protected Status? Apply here if you live in California.

3. Spread the word on social media.

Tell your friends and family and post one of these images about these new programs on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We want our community to know that MAF is #HereToStay. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in the loop about our new programs.

The Trump Administration ended DACA on September 5, 2017, igniting a wave of anguish and fear in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of young people came out of the shadows to register for the DACA program hoping that that would be the first step to becoming full participants in the U.S., the country many know as their only home. Despite the dark cloud of uncertainty in their lives, young immigrants are rising up, full of hope. They are organizing the social justice movement of our generation, advocating for a DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship, and pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms to help millions of undocumented immigrants as well.

I was boarding a flight at the crack of dawn to Los Angeles when the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Since 2012, this program has provided young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – commonly referred to as “Dreamers” – with protection from deportation and work permits. Scrolling through the headlines, I knew it would be a rough day. Not only was the Administration ending DACA, but it was doing so in a ridiculously cruel way. The announcement ended DACA for new applicants – many of whom were high school students who dreamed of pursuing higher education using DACA – while giving those already with DACA just one month to submit applications to renew their status if their work authorization ended by March 5, 2018. Dreamers were left to learn about the announcement on their own and determine whether or not they qualified.

154,000 Dreamers could extend their protective status for two more years. But they didn’t get any letters or receive a phone call. There was no outreach to encourage them to renew.

Immigrant communities and advocates were outraged by the announcement. Protests erupted in cities across the country. People were angry, and rightly so. Our government was breaking a promise made by President Obama that had radically improved the lives of the 800,000 young immigrants enrolled in the program. For years Congress had both acknowledged the need to reform America’s broken immigration system, but failed to do so, leaving millions of immigrants unable to come out of the shadows. DACA was a small, temporary solution for young people as we waited for Congress to fix our broken system.

No official notification from the government

No official notification from the government

Sessions announces DACA will end

Sessions announces DACA will end

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

In 2012, President Obama gave the executive order to establish DACA, under which the federal government promised not to deport immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were enrolled in school, had graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.  Instead, the government would grant them permission to work and provide them with Social Security numbers. In return, Dreamers would register with the Department of Homeland Security and provide them with all of their personal information. Like the 800,000 Dreamers who registered for DACA, at MAF, we too believed in that promise—that they could live openly in the light of day.

When President Obama first created DACA, we started providing zero-interest loans to finance the high application fee (now $495). We worked with over 1,000 Dreamers in the last 5 years. For MAF, this was personal.

We witnessed the benefits of DACA on a daily basis. With DACA, we saw first-hand that our clients were better supporting themselves and their families by accessing higher paying jobs. They opened bank accounts and began saving. By every metric, DACA propelled them forward, unleashing their creative energy and human potential. With DACA, some of our clients enrolled in school, became doctors or nurses. Others, like Gustavo, secured better-paying jobs. He stopped cleaning houses and was able to get work as a Wells Fargo bank teller serving the Latino community

I spent the next day in Los Angeles, fielding emails and trying to think through next steps. Thursday morning, I was back in the MAF’s office where we had our first post-announcement staff meeting. We talked about our options, trying to figure out how to proceed. Doing nothing was not an option. Without knowing exactly how, on that morning we resolved to help as many Dreamers as possible to renew their status.

Dreamers only had four weeks to renew before the October 5 deadline, so every minute mattered. With that in mind, we agreed to offer zero-interest loans, but on a much larger scale than ever before. We were going national with these loans. This would be a huge operational challenge for us for two reasons. First, up until this point, we’d only financed DACA application fees for Dreamers in California. Second, although MAF is a national organization, we work through a network of nonprofit partners to serve clients outside of California. For the sake of efficiency, we needed to outreach to and directly serve clients all over the U.S., regardless of geography- for the first time ever.

We set a goal to finance 1,000 applications in 30 days – the same number of loans we had provided in the last five years.

I began contacting funders to solicit support for our new loan fund.  We needed $500,000, and fast. While I was working the phones for funding, MAF staff members were working furiously to operationalize the new loan fund. Our communications team built a new website specifically for the DACA renewal loans, complete with a clock that tracked the number of minutes left before the window to apply for renewal closed. Our tech team streamlined our existing loan application by stripping out any information that wasn’t absolutely essential to processing the loan requests, and built a system for rapidly reviewing and confirming an applicant’s eligibility to renew at this time.

By the end of that first week, we’d secured a million dollars in commitments from the Weingart Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Chavez Family Foundation, and Tipping Point Community. With their support, we doubled our original goal accordingly and aimed to help 2,000 DACA recipients to apply for renewal. It was an absurdly ambitious and risky goal, one that could put MAF’s finances in a potential cash-flow crisis. But we had to do it. If ever there was a time to put it all on the line, it was now.

 

One week after the announcement to end DACA, we were ready to launch the new loan fund. We had 21 days until the deadline.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 12, we sent a series of emails and press releases to media outlets, colleagues, funders, and immigrant rights activists. I was in New Jersey that day, preparing to deliver a keynote address later that evening, when I received a call from Fred Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weingart Foundation, asking us to consider offering grants instead of loans. He argued that the urgency and gravity of the situation necessitated grants and that loans, even at zero interest, would pose a barrier to some Dreamers. I was reluctant to make the shift right after launching the campaign, but hearing his commitment to work with us made it easier to take the plunge. Thanks to Fred, a new path forward opened for us.

I quickly called MAF’s leadership team and we agreed to revise our strategy. We re-launched the campaign later that day offering $495 scholarships to DACA recipients who needed to renew. By Thursday, September 14, just two days after launching the campaign, we received more than 2,000 applications. The campaign’s website briefly crashed due to the heavy traffic. We were ecstatic at the response, but the overwhelming interest created a number of new operational challenges. First, there was a very real possibility that we would run out of money. Part of the problem was timing. While we had secured commitments from funders, we had not received the money in our bank account. We had to front MAF’s general operating money while funders worked through their approval and disbursement processes.

Just 48 hours into the campaign, the first 2,000 applicants had already claimed all of the $1,000,000 in DACA grant funds.

I remember the conversations with my leadership team about how to proceed as some of the most nerve-racking of the entire campaign. We were literally watching the clock, counting down the hours until we would run out of money. That night, we considered shutting down the program. Very quickly, we’d met our goal of helping 2,000 Dreamers, which was already double what we’d originally planned for. But the truth was that we could not stop. Ending DACA was a national emergency, and we refused to abandon our community in the midst of it.

We considered reverting back to zero-interest loans. But we didn’t want to do that either. It would have been extremely complicated and confusing. Instead, we changed our messaging to alleviate some pressure. We started encouraging applicants to first consider asking for support from friends or family members before requesting funds from MAF. We trusted that those who could self-select out of the process would do so, in turn reducing demand and increasing the likelihood that we would assist those most in need. We agreed that I’d work the phones to push for more funding.

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

The

The "Situation Room" in action

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Ultimately, through the course of the campaign we raised $4 million dollars, eight times more than our initial goal. While I’d like to say that the money was a response to my exceptional fundraising skills, that wasn’t the case.

Funders understood the urgency of the situation, and many of them were able to expedite their approval processes – which usually takes months – into just hours or days. Fred Ali was working the phones too; he contacted his colleagues at other foundations, vouching for us and asking that they consider supporting the campaign. And like Fred, we had so many other funders working behind the scenes, calling colleagues and allies they knew would care and could commit quickly. Many of them contributed to the renewal fund, increasing our goal to helping 6,000 Dreamers renew their DACA status. Aside from the funding and cash flow challenges, we were now faced with a slew of major operational ones.

In theory, the process to deliver funds to applicants was simple. MAF would write a check to the Department of Homeland Security for $495, and mail it to the applicant, who would include it in their application package. But in practice, we hit wall after wall. For starters, there was the question of how to cut so many checks so quickly. During the earliest days of the campaign, when we were receiving upwards of 800 applications a day, I was traveling for work and our Chief Operating Officer was in Chile. Because we are the only two people authorized to sign MAF checks, this created an immediate bottleneck.

Our first workaround was a signature stamp. Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, Research and Technology Director, confirmed with our bank would recognize a stamp, got me onboard with the idea with a few days, but even that was too slow.

 With applications coming in by the hundreds each day; and seeing our target go from 3,000 to 4,000, and then finally to 6,000 renewals, we needed to find a better alternative.

Within a few days, we outsourced the task to a third-party processor to manage the bulk of the work, allowing us to focus on the approval process and applications that needed individual attention. This was a huge weight off of our shoulders. Just like with cutting checks, mailing them sounded straightforward but proved enormously difficult. Prior to this campaign, MAF had never primarily communicated with clients via snail mail. Consequently, we didn’t have much  experience sending large volumes of mail, and didn’t realize that it is both an art and a science, until it was almost too late.

Our original plan had been to send the checks via priority mail. To do this we needed the appropriate “priority mail” envelopes, which are available for purchase at every post office. So, on that first day, Mohan Kanungo, Director of Programs & Engagement, drove to the nearest post office to buy supplies. However, there weren’t enough envelopes for the hundreds of checks we needed to mail. So, he drove to another one. And then another.

Soon, MAF staff and their loved ones were driving all over the Bay Area to raid post office supplies.  At one point, Mohan charged $2,400 worth of mailing supplies to his personal credit card.

He couldn’t use a company card because he’d given it to a fellow MAF staffer who was using it to purchase supplies at other post offices. Because we were new to bulk mailings, we also didn’t know that there is a specific way you are supposed to do them. MAF staff showed up with huge boxes of envelopes, figuring we would mail them the way we would any other letter. Turns out that our method was extremely inefficient because the post office had no way to processes the envelopes in bulk. Rather, each one had to be processed individually, which took approximately 1 – 2 minutes, meaning mailing hundreds of envelopes could take hours.

No one was happy about this. The postal workers were frustrated by the massive inconvenience it caused them because they were understaffed, too. We were upset with ourselves, as well. MAF staff had to remain at the post office for hours at a time while each letter was processed. It was time we didn’t have. Soon postal workers simply began refusing to process our mailings. Staff would get rejected at one post office and drive to another in the hopes they could mail it from there. Or they’d split a large mailing into a couple of smaller ones that would be less onerous to process, and get them out that way

Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, called the local office of the regional representative of the United States Postal Service, where she spoke with a woman in the business service network department. Tara asked her, “Do you know about the Dreamers?” She said, “Yes!” After explaining what MAF was doing and why there was such a time crunch, the postal worker worker jumped into action. We found our advocate. That same day, she organized a conference call with supervisors from numerous area post offices during which she instructed them to accept all of MAF’s mailings. Our postal shero explained how to create a manifest for our mail so that the postal workers could scan all of our envelopes in bulk instead of individually. She also provided the direct name and number of the Postmaster General if we ran into more problems.

Fueling our anxiety was the fact that we had promised applicants a response within 48 hours of submitting the initial application.

Initially, we thought that 48 hours was a relatively fast turnaround time. But in a time of crisis, 48 hours can feel like forever. Our office was constantly flooded with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits, from applicants wanting to confirm that we had received their request and wanting to know when to expect the check.

Every single person on staff was answering phones and fielding inquiries – including me. We were woefully understaffed to field the volume of inquiries we were receiving, and decided we needed a more transparent and robust set of communications with our applicants. Aparna drafted a series of emails that would be automatically sent to applicants as their application worked its way through our process. One email was sent to confirm receipt of the application; another was sent to confirm that we had all of the necessary materials to review it; a third went out to confirm that it was approved; and a final email was sent confirming when to expect the check. We even created another automated email to tell applicants to expect another email soon with tracking information. It seems over the top, but these email communications considerably lowered the call volume.

While the automated communications helped to significantly reduce the volumes of calls and emails we received, we remained severely understaffed relative to the workload. We hired temporary staff but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to the nature of the highly sensitive information we were processing. So, we turned to our friends and colleagues, including La Cocina, and other key allies at Salesforce and Tipping Point, all of whom excused staff from work and sent them to our office to volunteer.

Then the office of the Governor of Washington contacted us and said “We heard you were the nationwide provider of DACA scholarships. We have an anonymous donor in the state of Washington. Can you process $125,000 of scholarships for our residents?”

Hundreds of organizations – both small and big – helped us to spread the word. There were videos, memes, vloggers and even a social media sweepstake sponsored by the Clever Girls Collaborative. The President of the University of California sent several press releases and social media messages to inform students about the scholarships, as did the President of the California Community Colleges. Without solicitation from our team, some funders approached us asking how they could support the initiative. Across the country, immigrant rights groups and legal aid organizations we’d never worked with before were advertising our renewal fund to their clients.

Spreading the word beyond the Bay Area was important because many of those organizations were operating in communities that lacked support for Dreamers, either because of the local political climate or because they were in rural, isolated areas, like Mississippi and Utah. We attribute a lot of our ability to reach these communities to incredible responses from both the media and social media. The campaign received more than 1,000,000 social media hits, and more than 100 media mentions, including coverage in New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, among other prominent outlets.

We were humbled to give $3.8M to 7,678 Dreamers – making this the largest DACA renewal fund in the nation.

In the fall of 2017, MAF provided $2,513,610 to fund 5,078 DACA renewal applications in 46 states – that’s 6.7 percent of all renewal applications submitted. That means we funded one out of every ten Dreamers in the state of California who applied for a renewal, including 16 percent of all applicants in the Bay Area. And in January 2018, days after U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s injunction, MAF issued an additional 2,600 grants to Dreamers.

As one Bay Area legal aid attorney told me, “Again and again and again, Dreamers walked into our offices to apply for a renewal with a MAF check in hand.”

Over the past several months, all of us at MAF have spent a lot of time reflecting on the campaign, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how the experience should shape our work moving forward. The campaign is a bittersweet victory. In terms of impact, we exceeded our wildest ambitions. We stood as a beacon of love and support for immigrants at a time when so many of our friends, families, and clients felt under attack. Nonetheless, as an organization we have struggled to celebrate the campaign because it represents the end of DACA. We believe in an America that is so much better than this, and remain stunned and absolutely livid that the Trump Administration ended DACA without offering a permanent legislative solution, leaving millions of young immigrants and their families in anguish. Living with that sort of pain is difficult. For all the sadness and disgust that we have felt in response to the Trump Administration’s actions, we have also discovered a deeper and more powerful resolve. While I know each MAFista took away something personal from the experience, we share these overarching lessons:

1. Timing is everything.

Proven solutions – no matter how great – are not always the *right* solution for every situation. We launched our fund with loans because making loans is what we do, and we do it well. But given the urgency of the DACA crisis – when we didn’t have time to deal with even the most modest of underwriting processes – loans simply weren’t the right product. At the beginning, we were so steeped in our history that we couldn’t see beyond loans. It took an outsider to open the door to the possibility of scholarships. However, once that door opened, we were flexible, ready to embrace the alternative approach, and operationalize it quickly.

2. Technology is critical to scale.

Time and time again throughout our campaign, we resolved bottlenecks and scaled services with technology. We engaged applicants throughout the country by creating a secure online application through our Salesforce CRM that people could complete and submit to us within minutes. We created automated emails to keep Dreamers informed and engaged throughout the application process. We outsourced the process of cutting checks to clients by building an electronic applicant database that we emailed to our third-party processor. Without question, absent technology, we could not troubleshoot obstacles in real time, and we would have been much more constrained in our ability to reach communities outside the Bay Area.

3. Trust is imperative to success.

Dreamers were willing to share their personal information with MAF – despite the climate of fear in which they were operating – because they knew that we were – and are – on their side. Similarly, funders, including ones that had previously never worked with us, were willing to bet big on us because they trusted their colleagues who vouched for us. Likewise, nonprofits referred their clients to us knowing that we were going to do right by them. All of this happened fast and trust was the key to making the campaign successful.

4. Uncertainty can be your friend.

As nonprofits, we plan our work over the course of years. We create theories of change, strategic plans, and budgets to demonstrate our good stewardship and fiscal management. In normal times, these tried and true practices help mark our progress towards achieving goals. I get it. But we’re not in normal times. In moments like these, no matter how perfect our plans are, the fact is that the fate of millions of families hang in the balance with the next incendiary tweet from Trump. We really don’t know the nature, or extent, of the next Trump-created crisis. This type of uncertainty necessitates a willingness and ability to take the ever-changing political climate into account, and change programmatic strategies accordingly.

The fight for social justice is long. We now have at least 7,600 more people ready to join the battle.

Wealth inequality and new Americans

This post first appeared on the Aspen Institute’s blog. It was written by MAF’s CEO José A. Quiñonez in preparation for a panel on the Racial Wealth Gap at the Aspen Institute’s 2017 Summit on Inequality and Opportunity

Here’s what we know about wealth inequality in America today: It’s real, it’s huge, and it’s growing. Barring substantial policy change, it would take 228 years for black households to catch up to white households’ wealth, and 84 years for Latinxs to do the same. This matters because wealth is a safety net. Without that cushion, too many families live just one job loss, illness, or divorce away from financial ruin.

Here’s another thing we know: Contrary to popular opinion, wealth inequality between racial groups did not come about because one group of people didn’t work hard enough, or save enough, or make savvy enough investment decisions than the other.

How did it come about, then? The short answer: history. Centuries of slavery and the bitter decades of legal segregation laid the groundwork. Discriminatory laws and policies against people of color made things worse. The G.I. Bill of 1944, for example, helped white families buy homes, attend college, and accumulate wealth. People of color were largely excluded from these asset-building opportunities.

Today’s racial wealth divide is the financial legacy of our country’s long history of institutionalized racism.

The factor of time is, in some ways, foundational to these findings. Sociologistseconomists, and journalists alike all underscore how the racial wealth gap was created and exacerbated over time. But when it comes to the question of new Americans—the millions of us who have joined this nation in recent decades—time often gets glossed over in racial wealth gap conversations.

Immigrants’ creative survival strategies and rich cultural and social resources could help inform better policy interventions.

Reports generally illustrate the racial wealth gap by, understandably, placing the average wealth of different racial groups side by side and observing the gaping chasm that divides them. For example, in 2012, the average white household owned $13 in wealth for every dollar owned by black households, and $10 in wealth for every dollar owned by Latinx households. This story matters. There is no denying that. But what might we learn from investigating wealth inequality with more attention to immigration?

A report by the Pew Research Center divided the population of adults in 2012 into three cohorts: first-generation (foreign-born), second-generation (US-born with at least one immigrant parent), and third-and-higher generation (two US-born parents).

Clearly different racial groups have very different American stories.

The vast majority of Latinxs and Asians are new Americans. Seventy percent of Latinx adults and 93 percent of Asian adults are either first- or second-generation Americans. In contrast, a mere 11 percent of white and 14 percent of black adults are in the same generational cohorts.

By comparison, the latter groups have been in the United States for much longer. And given their relatively comparable tenure in the US, it makes sense to place their data side by side.

But comparing the wealth of Latinxs—half of whom are first-generation Americans—to that of white families, 89 percent of whom have been in the US for many generations, seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Instead, we could add nuance and context to our analysis by measuring the differences in wealth between racial groups within generational cohorts; or by comparing members of different groups who share key demographic characteristics; or even better still, by measuring the financial impact of policy interventions within specific groups.

For example, we could investigate the financial trajectories of young immigrants after they received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. Did they improve their income, build their savings, or even acquire appreciating assets, as compared with their peers?

We could go further back in time and explore what happened to the generation of immigrants who were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). What did emergence from the shadows mean for their assets and wealth? How does their wealth compare with those who remained undocumented?

These contextual comparisons can give us space not just to quantify what’s missing from people’s lives, but also to discover what works.

Their creative survival strategies and rich cultural and social resources could help inform better policy interventions and program developments. Bringing the story of new Americans into our conversations about wealth inequality will deepen our understanding of these disparities and the distinct forms they take for different groups. That’s what we need to develop the bold policies and innovative programs needed to narrow the stark racial wealth divide we face today.

 

Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s class of MacArthur Fellows. Among the short list of esteemed awardees is José Quiñonez, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Asset Fund (MAF). The announcement has been covered by news outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The LA Times.

The MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant,” recognizes those with exceptional creativity, a track record of achievement, and the potential for significant contributions in the future. Each fellow receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 to support awardees’ pursuit of their creative visions. Since 1981, fewer than 1,000 people have been named MacArthur Fellows. Fellows are selected through a rigorous process that has involved thousands of expert and anonymous nominators, evaluators, and selectors over the years. Past fellows have included notable individuals like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alison Bechdel, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“This award is a high honor that recognizes the ingenuity of people who live in the shadows, who come together to help one another to survive and thrive in life. The award lifts up what is right and good in people’s lives – the trust and commitment they have for one another,” says Quiñonez.

According to the Foundation:

José A. Quiñonez is a financial services innovator creating a pathway to mainstream financial services and non-predatory credit for individuals with limited or no financial access. A disproportionate number of minority, immigrant, and low-income households are invisible to banks and credit institutions, meaning they have no checking or savings accounts (unbanked), make frequent use of nonbank financial services (underbanked), or lack a credit report with a nationwide credit-reporting agency. Without bank accounts or a credit history, it is nearly impossible to obtain safe loans for automobiles, homes, and businesses or to rent an apartment.

Quiñonez is helping individuals overcome these challenges by linking rotating credit associations or lending circles, a traditional cultural practice from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, to the formal financial sector. Lending circles are typically informal arrangements of individuals pooling their resources and distributing loans to one another. Through the Mission Asset Fund (MAF), Quiñonez has created a mechanism for reporting individuals’ repayment of small, zero-interest loans to credit bureaus and other financial institutions. MAF participants are able to establish a credit history and gain access to credit cards, bank loans, and other services, and lending circles focused on youth provide individuals with fees for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival applications and apartment security deposits (which are particularly needed by youth aging out of foster care). All participants are required to complete a financial training class and are provided with financial coaching and peer support. Since the lending circles were established in 2008, participants’ credit scores, collectively, have increased an average of 168 points.

Quiñonez has established a network of partnerships with the financial services industry to enable other organizations to replicate his approach. With Quiñonez and MAF providing the technology necessary to disperse and track loans (a significant hurdle for many nonprofits) and assisting in securing local partners and investors, 53 nonprofit providers in 17 states and the District of Columbia are now using this powerful model in their communities. Quiñonez’s visionary leadership is providing low-income and minority families with the means to secure safe credit, participate more fully in the American economy, and obtain financial security.

Felicidades, José!

Building Better: 2015 Annual Report

MAF’s 2015 Annual Report Building Better tells the story of what’s possible when we continually challenge ourselves to build better partnerships, better technology, and better programs.

In 2015, we’re proud to have built a diverse network of 53 nonprofits in 17 states and D.C.

With new partners, we’ve expanded our hubs in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the Northwest. And we’re thrilled to celebrate over $5 million in zero-interest social loans that are helping thousands of hardworking students, parents, and entrepreneurs build brighter financial futures.

That means an entrepreneur like Sandra can get a zero-interest business loan to grow her inventory and reach new clients — all while building her credit. And a college student like Kimberly can secure Deferred Action to gain access to financial aid and attend the school of her dreams.

We did not do this alone.

Thanks to our funders, donors, board, and clients across the U.S., together we’re building better solutions to unlock the full economic potential of communities living in the financial shadows. Thank you for building with us to make that possible.

We couldn’t have created this report without extensive support from Dan Massey of Google and Billy Roh of Opendoor, who generously volunteered their time and talents to build an ever better annual report for us.

Find out what’s up next for MAF in 2016 by checking out our Annual Report here!

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