By Sam Bojarski
Two weeks after leaders of some Haitian community organizations in New York City penned a letter to some elected officials and city agency officials detailing the dire need for cash assistance for undocumented Haitians, they have yet to to get an answer.
While the letter was addressed to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), elected officials and other city offices, “from our end at Diaspora, we have only heard from the Public Advocate’s office,” said Carine Jocelyn, chief executive officer of Diaspora Community Services, a social services agency based in Brooklyn.
The Haitian Times reported on May 21 that Haitian-led CBOs were largely being left out of conversations concerning the allocation of a $20 million fund to provide cash assistance for New York City’s undocumented workers. Open Society Foundations, a nonprofit, pledged the money, which MOIA has worked to distribute through CBOs. While some Haitian-led CBOs have received allocations, Jocelyn in particular has been less than satisfied about the response from elected officials thus far. One elected official, state assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, has vocalized her own frustrations with the allocation process.
The May 13 Haitian community joint letter was addressed to MOIA Commissioner Bitta Mostofi and signed by five Haitian-led CBOs: Diaspora Community Services, Haitian Americans United for Progress (HAUP), Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and Haitian-American Community Coalition. It was also shared with Haitian elected officials at the local and state levels, many of whom also have large Haitian constituencies.
In an interview, Jocelyn acknowledged the economic and budgetary challenges that the spread of coronavirus has posed for leaders at the city and state levels. But she also expressed disappointment at the lack of support from elected officials, many of whom pride themselves on being Haitian.
“How did they prioritize direct services for the Haitian community? How did they advocate to make sure that the Haitian community was highlighted or included as part of the priority population?” Jocelyn asked rhetorically.
The elected officials who received the joint letter included New York City councilmembers Farah Louis (D-45) and Mathieu Eugene (D-40), as well as state assembly members Rodneyse Bichotte (D-42), Mathylde Frontus (D-46), Michaelle Solages (D-22), Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-11) and Clyde Vanel (D-33).
The office of Rodneyse Bichotte was the only one to return the Haitian Times’ request for comment before the deadline. Bichotte’s communications director denied the claim that the assemblywoman did not advocate for Haitian-led CBOs and the undocumented.
“Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte has played a critical role in advocating for the inclusion of Haitian community organizations in the $20 million Open Society Foundation (OSF) funding. Over half a million Haitian-Americans live in New York City, many in her district. Last month, she met with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) Commissioner, Bitta Mostofi, and with (the) Mayor’s Fund Director of Programs & Policy, Leah Prestamo twice to discuss the OSF funds, her frustration with the selection process, and to recommend a number of Haitian organizations be considered for funding,” Sabrina Rezzy, director of communications and legislation for the Office of Rodneyse Bichotte, said in an email.
“Over the course of those meetings, Assemblymember Bichotte learned that many organizations across New York City had been selected to receive the funding, which she discovered was stretched thin since no federal money has been allocated to immigrant relief,” Rezzy also told The Haitian Times.
According to HAUP, at least one in seven immigrants in New York City is of Haitian ethnicity. The OSF fund was designed to provide assistance to 20,000 of the city’s 360,000 undocumented workers, all of which were ineligible to receive federal stimulus checks.
Rezzy also said that Bichotte’s office did communicate with some of the authors of the joint letter and that MOIA selected several of the organizations to receive funding as a result of her efforts.
“Assemblymember Bichotte is concerned that under the current selection process, big organizations, especially those that do not normally aid the undocumented immigrant community, are siphoning the funding and credit from smaller organizations who actually do the work,” Rezzy added.
Last month, both Diaspora Community Services and Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees were awarded allocations of $50,000, to refer clients in need of cash assistance. It is unclear if this allocation was the result of advocacy by elected officials.
In a separate interview with the Haitian Times last month, Jocelyn expressed disbelief that HAUP, one of the largest Haitian-led social services organizations, had not yet received money from the OSF program. However, in a June 1 interview, she estimated that the organization had received a $75,000 allocation to assist the undocumented.
Leaders from the other organizations that signed the May 13 joint letter did not return a request for comment before the deadline.
“Many Haitian-Americans served as essential workers during this deadly pandemic, and I am deeply grateful for their sacrifice,” Assemblymember Bichotte said, in a prepared statement. “They contracted COVID-19 at higher rates than the general population, partly because of their service. I will continue to fight for them, to make sure they are not left behind because of their undocumented status. These people are heroes and they deserve our support.”
According to Jocelyn, CBOs are required to distribute the money they have been allocated through the OSF fund by July 15. They will soon begin assisting undocumented community members whose work has been affected by the pandemic.
“We’re all just trying to get it off the ground and hope to be able to do that in the next two weeks,” she said.
The Office of the Public Advocate did not return a request for comment.