It is sadly common knowledge that immigrant populations and other minority groups in California are often some of the most impoverished. Though there are opportunities for financial aid given by both the state and federal governments, neither of these are often easy to obtain. These two facts don’t add up, especially in California where the immigrant population is higher than in any other state. And while it seems like the responsibility of an immigrant family is to at least search out these resources, the reality is that these resources are often outdated and hard to use, or these families don’t have the resources to access these resources in the first place. The money that these families are missing out on because of a lack of updated and easy information and application forms is truly appalling. The government needs to streamline its application process for financial assistance and be more inclusive to help people who have just immigrated.
Many government websites are outdated and hard to navigate, especially when they are primarily in English or poorly translated. On top of this, applications are often incredibly long and tedious, which is precious time that many families cannot afford to spend when they are settling into a new country and a new way of life. If the government wants to start streamlining this for applicants, they should update their websites and shorten their applications. They should also ensure that these websites offer translations written by professional translators, not Google Translate, so that non-English speakers can still apply to get rent relief.
To make matters even worse, the hotline that is meant to help immigrants fill out these applications will hang up if there is no response after 20 seconds. For people who are still struggling with a new language, or for those who are hard-of-hearing or have a stutter, this lack of patience on the government’s end is horrific. Not only that, it further removes immigrants from getting the aid they need. In a similar vein to updating and properly translating government websites and applications, this problem could be remedied by offering workers on the other end of the line who understand the languages of the applicants and who also have the patience to not hang up if the applicant is not able to speak rapidly.
It should be noted as well that immigrants and others are being left out of crucial rent relief because many hold non-traditional jobs. In the myriad pages that pad out financial relief applications, pay stubs and tax returns that immigrants may not possess are requested. The lack of these documents limits their ability to apply for relief, and while these documents may be important at a legal level, they still discriminate against those with non-traditional jobs. The government needs to take into account the non-traditional situations of many immigrants and their families and waive these requirements so that people don’t have to live out on the streets.
Accessibility is the key focus of how to remedy the issue of immigrants and minority groups missing out on rent relief. Many families don’t have the money to spend on internet access or a computer, so the government should make an effort to provide centers which offer translators that are not overly formal and can speak in the familiar colloquialisms that will help applicants feel heard and welcome. Such centers could also provide stable internet access, computers and people who can help organize documents or assist those who don’t have the documents that the government requires. While there are organizations that help immigrants fill out these forms, California would be wise to consolidate these centers as places of public service where people can come and receive the relief that they need.
Furthermore, landlords should take part of the responsibility to direct their tenants to places where they can receive aid. While not all landlords are evil land barons and are oftentimes struggling themselves, rent relief benefits everyone in a renter-rentee relationship, and landlords would be wise to share this information to new tenants in the first place. Of course, not all landlords would likely be so helpful, as seen with how many landlords lobbied against the pandemic rent moratorium. But something as simple as posting a notice on a corkboard that these options are available to tenants could save everyone involved plenty of money.
Though this situation is difficult, it is obvious who has the power to make the process for financial aid easier, and that is the California government. Updating, shortening, clarifying and providing are the keys to helping thousands of people across California. Moving to a new country is hard enough. It is the responsibility of the government to make assistance more accessible to the people who will benefit most from it.