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Despite $28.5 million for SF COVID-19 relief, challenges remain for Latinx community

Despite $28.5 million for SF COVID-19 relief, challenges remain for Latinx community

The word “Resiliency” comes to mind when thinking about the population of the Mission, especially in the time of COVID-19. It is a testament to the strength of the Latinx community that despite a disproportionate number of cases and limited resources providing aid, the Mission’s spirit hasn’t wavered. But after eight months of shelter in place and shuttered business, help looks like it’s on the way from the City. 

On Sept. 24, Mayor London Breed’s office released a statement announcing the allocation of $28.5 million for COVID-19 relief within the Latinx community in the Mission District. The money is to come from the City’s general fund as well as various philanthropic donations and it is to be used by and with local groups who have already been fighting the virus in the Mission for months.

Lourdes Rojas, volunteer for the Latino Task Force Against COVID-19, canvasses businesses on Mission Street to provide information about upcoming free cover-19 testing in the neighborhood, Nov. 19, 2020. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

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In the announcement, Mayor Breed is quoted as recognizing that Latinx people have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus—Latinx people make up 15 percent of San Francisco’s general population but account for 47.3 percent of COVID-19 cases—and emphasizing the new cooperation between the City and local coalitions. “By working with the community, we have identified targeted areas of need that will help trust leaders reach our most vulnerable where they are and provide the support to keep the community healthy. ”

The San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition (SFLPEC) and the Latino Task Force (LTF) were among a coalition of community organizations that requested the $28.5 million from the City for several COVID-related programs. What resulted was an unprecedented collaboration of local and official bodies, spearheaded by the SFLPEC and the Department of Public Health (DPH), with support from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

Maria Aguilar and Lourdes Rojas, volunteers for the Latino Task Force Against COVID-19, canvass businesses along Mission Street to provide information about upcoming free cover-19 testing in the neighborhood, Nov. 19, 2020. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

The funding was apportioned between four general uses, each overseen by a particular City department which will direct the money to specific uses. The most significant in terms of direct COVID prevention is the $7.3 million secured by DPH, which will be used for community pop-up testing hubs, connecting families in need to the proper resources (including food), Personal Protective Equipment, and financial aid programs. 

The rest of the money is divided between the Office of Housing and Community Development ($8.5 million) for housing subsidies and eviction prevention; the Human Services Agency and Department of Children, Youth and Families ($5.3 million) for food access and family support; the Office of Economic and Workforce Development ($1.4 million) for zero-interest small business loans; there is a remaining $6 million which has yet to be directed.

Some would say that focused attention from city officials on the grave circumstances in the Mission has been long coming, along with adequate financial resources. Even now with the money approved and accounted for, there are still more obstacles for local organizations to contend with. Progress has been far from perfect.

Jon Jacobo, health committee chair of the LTF, expressed some of the frustrations that he has with the procedure for accessing the money, frustrations that one could easily imagine are common among other community leaders.

Maria Aguilar and Lourdes Rojas, volunteers for the Latino Task Force Against COVID-19, canvass businesses along Mission Street to provide information about upcoming free cover-19 testing in the neighborhood, Nov. 19, 2020. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

“We drew up a budget of what we needed, specifically…that amount was reflected in the $28 million…we were asking for a direct grant…[but] what happened is…a whole kind of RFP [Request For Proposal],” said Jacobo. “Not guaranteeing the money outright…We don’t even know if it will be awarded to us.” 

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Essentially, the City decided to follow the pre-pandemic protocols concerning financial grants in spite of today’s extraordinary circumstances, and even though groups like the Latino Task Force were directly involved in securing and budgeting the $28.5 million, they must all make competitive bids for specific services.

What is particularly maddening for Jacobo about this bureaucratic process is that the LTF must wait even longer to properly fund their Community Wellness Teams, a critical component of preventing COVID-19 spread and the most effective method of providing support to those in quarantine. The money is “crucial…to be able to hire the promotores that are the Community Wellness Team members,” said Jacobo, and the protocol is yet another hold-up.

Maria Aguilar, volunteer for the Latino Task Force Against COVID-19, canvasses businesses on Mission Street to provide information about upcoming free COVID-19 testing in the neighborhood, Nov. 19, 2020. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

Official financial protocol aside, a waiting period is inescapable for anyone counting on the funds, which are reportedly to be released in December; a specific date for this event has yet to be announced. 

Despite moderate discord, both local and City leaders acknowledge that the money and fight against COVID-19 are only steps in the right direction—the golden destination of this road is the elimination of inequalities between Latinx residents and the rest of San Francisco by establishing a financially and culturally strong and sustainable Latinx community. 

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