NEW YORK — At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Society Foundation granted $20 million to New York City organizations helping with the response. Haitian groups, including Haitian-Americans United for Progress, felt left out.
It took letter writing, calls to elected officials and media, and Tweets for them to receive funds. In the end, OSF granted HAUP $75,000 for COVID relief. Weeks later, two other Haitian-led groups, Diaspora Community Services and Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, received $50,000 each.
“There’s more demand than any of us can possibly meet,” HAUP’s Executive Director Elsie Saint-Louis told The Haitian Times at the time. “Our issue is that the assistance and all the help that is available to every community is not being equally given or divided in the community that we serve.”
It’s a constant challenge, HAUP and other Haitian groups have said, to cover unexpected developments that affect Haitians – both uniquely as a community and as a subset of larger groups. By most measures, HAUP is an example of a service group success story, given its ability to continue operating over its nearly 50-year existence.
However, it still struggles to serve all who need its support, Saint Louis has said.
“We get very little creativity for the needs of our immediate community and have to fit into the mold of the funding,” Saint-Louis said. “By the time we’re three months into a fiscal year, we serve 400 people, but we can only report 100 people. We will only get paid for the 100 people we serve, and there is always less money than we need.”
The organization drew $5.5 million in funding for its most recent past fiscal year, according to financial statements filed with the IRS, which support nearly a dozen programs. For Fiscal Year 2022, according to Saint-Louis, 40% of the budget is composed of fee-for-service grants that go toward Medicaid, special needs and after-school education programs. The other 60% comes from a variety of mostly federal, state and city sources.
Among them is $780,906 from the federal government’s Health Resources & Services Administration, $45,000 from New York City Council Member Nantasha Williams of District 27 for its domestic violence program and $4,635 from the city’s Department of Social Services for COVID prevention and awareness program.
Since the late 1990s, HAUP’s funding has increased from $300,000 to its current total, a level of growth that experts say is not unusual for groups that have existed for decades. Still, the Haitian community is underserved and underrepresented when it comes to social services.
HAUP joins other New York City-based organizations that try to address a variety of needs Haitian residents experience. Needs — such as food access, housing, utilities, Internet connectivity, personal care items, COVID-19 resources, health-care disparities, access to mental health services and assistance for people with disabilities — that are all exacerbated by economic instability, a community study found.
Unexpected crises such as the Del Rio migrant crisis is a predicament other Haitian organizations experience. With federal immigration policy and funding being uneven, the ability of an organization to assist depends oftentimes on a state or city’s existing infrastructure to receive immigrants and the location’s political leanings.
In liberal Massachusetts last year, legislators passed a bill that set aside more than $8 million for Haitian migrants as part of a broader $4 billion in federal funding allocated to the state for pandemic relief. In Florida, Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, a social services organization based in North Miami, has been helping immigrants try to settle while navigating the asylum process backlog, but is overwhelmed by the volume.
At least one foundation, OSF, tried to fill the gap, saying in its announcement that the treatment of Haitians was “unconscionable and a stain on our country’s standing across the region and among Black Americans.” It pledged $1.3 million in emergency response aid to such groups as Haitian Bridge Alliance, UndocuBlack Network, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project to help provide legal services.
“The damage done by these policies will last long after headlines fade,” OSF said in its release then.
OSF did not return messages seeking comment for this article.
Raising the alarm for increased funding
Experts said uneven or inconsistent funding sources is common for immigrant-serving nonprofits. One reason is the one-time approach many funders take to crises.
“The issue is that immigration cases take years to resolve, and there are huge numbers of low-income immigrant men, women and children who need assistance,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). “Funders jump in, but they’ll only fund for a period of time, like a year or two, and they [organizations] need long-term sustainable funding.”
Funding received could also be determined by how much an organization’s mission is understood.
“A challenge for immigrant-facing nonprofits is the knowledge of the depth and breadth of immigrants by philanthropic funders,” said Sabrina Hargrave, director of programs at Brooklyn Community Foundation.
“It’s very easy for philanthropic organizations to divide immigrants into documented or undocumented, but really understanding the different pathways, the different histories and the different experiences is sometimes challenging for funders to fund appropriately,” Hargrave said.
One solution, she said, could be for leaders to place more funding into local nonprofits through the city’s organizations, as New York has done.
Other experts said New York City was effective in helping organizations respond to situations like last year’s Del Rio crisis through coordination with entities like the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA). They say nonprofits like HAUP must continue raising the alarm of their needs and keep the government accountable for the services they wish to receive.
“Small-to-medium nonprofits have a great relationship with MOIA, with rapid response work and crisis management,” Hargrave said. “It’s important that the funders are resourcing the work these organizations are doing.”
Funders too, on the other hand, are increasingly looking for proof of an organization’s engagement with the community through qualitative and quantitative measures.
In evaluating applications for its Health Resources & Services Administration’s Community Based Organization Initiative, for example, the agency looked for community health workers and other “trusted messengers” in their communities to address vaccine hesitancy, spokesperson David Bowman said.
“The application from HAUP was one of the highest scoring applications based on the assessment by the objective review committee when they were selected for their grant award,” Bowman said.
HAUP also went through an application process with the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which gave $6.5 billion to more than 400 nonprofit organizations for Fiscal Year 2021-22 to fund its special needs programming. In reviewing applications, OPWDD is looking for agencies that embrace cultural competency in reaching underserved communities.
From Fiscal Year 2021-2022, HAUP received more than $2.2 million in Medicaid funds through OPWDD to deliver community habilitation, day habilitation and respite services to 98 individuals. In addition, they received around $0.6 million in funding for bonuses to direct their care staff, in accordance with OPWDD’s federally-approved American Plan Rescue Act initiatives, according to an OPWDD spokesperson.
HAUP also received $41,000 in total discretionary funding for their Domestic Violence and Empowerment Initiative, as well as for its food pantries in the previous year.
In June, the city pledged $1.6 million to help nonprofits serving Haitian immigrants. But, Saint-Louis said, only $700,000 was available to be split among the seven Haitian organizations. After months of waiting, Saint-Louis said HAUP has received its $100,000, which she hopes to put toward salaries for their case management program assisting refugees from Del Rio.
Looking at HAUP’s work and difficulties over the years, Saint Louis leans into the mission.
“It’s challenging, but it’s about the drive to make the community better and stronger,” she said.
To view other stories in this series, read the first installment about the community’s needs, and second about shifting to longer-term responses beyond times of crisis.