Latino Consortium for Action Begins Phase Two of Its
COVID-19 Relief Fund
Filling the Gaps in Community Financial Relief
Just as with the first Latino Coalition for Action Relief Fund, Karen
Menendez Coller and Centro Hispano of Dane County will act as the
fiscal agent for LCA.
“It was a lot of effort to process the fact that we were starting this pandemic on a personal level, Centro level, and community level— on multiple levels,” said Karen
Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, which was the fiscal agent for LCA. “We just didn’t think. We went into autopilot. We came together right
away the week that everything happened. We decided that we needed a fund. We figured out how to make sure that it complemented other things, things that were
being discussed. Of course, everyone thought about the undocumented community. We said that we were going to focus on that. We got an army of volunteers who
were staff, but were doing this on the side too. We just started doing everything, from fundraising to creating a protocol to screening to a process for cutting checks,
all of that stuff. It happened really fast and it was a ton of work. There were long, long nights of work.”

And within the chaos and confusion were the needs of undocumented families. While supporting family members in Latin America, these families were cut out from
federal assistance and were used to living “invisible” lives so they would not be noticed by the authorities. And yet now, because of the pandemic, they were forced
to become visible for the sake of their families.

"People were calling very scared,” Coller recalled. “They were very scared and very much in need. We talk about this at Centro a lot. But there is a sense of urgency
whenever we get calls. I think what people don’t understand is that living in this country, there is low-level anxiety as an immigrant. There’s always, ‘What’s going to
happen to me? I’ve got to keep everything going. Everything needs to be fixed. I need to do this now.’ And so this just amplified everything. We were getting calls for
people who were really, really concerned. I think that first week, we got over 3,000 calls for one receptionist, bless her heart. It threw everything out the door. So
much happened.”

And there was much anxiety that people had because of how seeking help would affect their status or expose them to ICE.

“We didn’t know if the deportations were going to keep going,” Coller said. “What if ICE comes now? We were having meetings about that with Immigration
Collaborative and Fabiola’s office. And thankfully, over the past year, things died down when it came to deportations here locally.
And who knows, with the new administration as of today, we’ll see how things go. But all of that was uncertain. And also, the fear was, ‘If I apply for this fund, am I
going to be a public charge?’ There was this whole thing about not seeking these resources because it might ding them in the whole immigration process and people
would more likely not become a resident. Or it might flag them for other reasons. All of those things were in question. Of course that’s not allowed. That shouldn’t
have happened. But people were afraid that might happen under the last administration.”

Fortunately due to their independent, non-profit status, agencies like Centro Hispano and the Latino Academy for Workforce Development were perceived as “safe
houses” where families could emerge to seek the help they needed.

“There is trust there with what people know about these organizations,” Coller said. “And so, in this time of crisis, people say, ‘I’ve heard a lot about them. I know
what they do. I feel comfortable. I’ve gone to a couple of events. I can go ahead and show myself in this space.’ There are not many spaces in this city and this
county where you can say that. There just aren’t. And so to ask for a person in crisis to show themselves when they are the most vulnerable in a city that doesn’t
necessarily know how to handle that is asking a lot. And that is something that people need to understand.”

There was definitely a need to fill by the LCA relief efforts.

“We raised over $1 million,” Coller said. “We served around 1,140 people. We got over 2,000 applications. We implemented a whole screening process to determine
eligibility. They had to live in Dane County and not have an opportunity to get any other resources through other means. If you had a work permit, we could probably
figure out how to get you funds in other ways. People would come or call. We would screen them and then they would get a call back from one of our case managers.
And then that case manager would tell them if they didn’t meet the eligibility, there were other resources that they could get. Essentially, over 2,000 cases were
worked. But about half of those received financial dollars through the LCA fund.”

As with any emergency relief effort where the relief workers are continuously exposed to human trauma, Coller had to make sure that her staff made it through the
effort intact.

“The need was overwhelming,” Coller said. “Over the last year, we focused a lot on our staff well-being, a tremendous amount on them, because they were carrying
a lot and hearing a lot. They were feeling a lot and they had their own situations going on. So that was a big, big concern, the big load that everyone was carrying.
And so we checked in with each other — at least at Centro — a ton virtually. We did that, which I appreciated.”

As the economic impact of the first round of federal stimulus wanes — and along with it the eviction prohibitions and enhanced unemployment benefits — the LCA
has decided to rev up its fundraising and relief services once again in anticipation that the most needy — und ineligible — will be left without relief. The second
round of relief will have a different look from the centralized intake process of the first round.

“Right now, we opened it up,” Coller said. “We sent a blast to all of our donors and key supporters last week and then made the announcement at the start of this
week. Once we start raising dollars and having money in the fund, those dollars are going to be available to LCA partner organizations. There isn’t going to be an
application because the calls around rent assistance just never stop. Each of my staff have a list of people. We’re just going to have it as a discretionary fund. For
an individual, there is a certain amount that you can get and for a family, there is a certain amount. We’re going to try to piece things together with other partners in
town who have similar financial assistance funds so that we can stretch our dollars as much as we can. We’re taking away the application process, but focus on
meeting the needs of the community because the community hasn’t stopped calling.”

In some ways, the second effort will allow more decentralized decision-making at the natural point of contact that many of the undocumented families and others
have with Latino-led organizations.

“The great thing about this is I think Centro stays as the fiscal agent,” Coller said. “So we would receive the dollars. Let’s say that Sandy had families in Big Brothers
Big Sisters that are describing some housing needs. And she is trying to figure out resources for them. This would be a pot of money that she could pull from to
By Jonathan Gramling

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to really hit Wisconsin and the United States in
March 2020, it was like everyone suddenly seeing a tidal wave on the horizon that was
going to wash over the community in very little time, leaving everyone to scurry about
and secure themselves before the COVID-19 wave hit.

Public gatherings and almost all “non-essential” businesses would be closed almost
overnight. Thousands would be suddenly thrown out of work with few if any savings.
And any relief that people might receive was not determined by their predicament, but
more often than not, by their status. Confusion and fear reigned.

Rather quickly, the Latino Consortium for Action, bolstered by the initiatives of the Boys
& Girls Club of Dane County, sprang into action.
complement any other resources that she could find for them. The same is
true for Common Wealth and UNIDOS. Veronica is going through money like
water. She, in particular, needs resources when it comes to flexible
spending funds. With Baltazar, he might be having classes and families
express concerns. Or people he works with through Vera Court have
concerns. I am very eager to have a pot of money that is flexible, that we
don’t need to jump through a billion hoops and hold a billion meetings. I just
need to get the money out, especially at Centro. I just feel a lot of pressure
from my staff that there is a need. The focus is more on knowing the
community that needs it and getting the money out the door. We may not
have the years of understanding the laws and all of those things. But at this
point, this is more of a crisis response than anything else.”

Coller emphasized how important it is for any new relief — or old relief that
hasn’t been distributed yet — to get out of the door quickly because there is
a bubble of economic reckoning coming in the near future.

“It’s harder when you don’t pay your rent to fall in that trap,” Coller said.
“That’s why the first LCA fund was so important, trying to get the resources
out there. Once people fell behind, when the eviction moratorium ends, you
are behind and need to pay all of it. It’s just going to be very key to get this
to the neediest families. The sad thing too is that in the end, we don’t have
enough. We need more. Hopefully the packages that will come in the
coming weeks will give the necessary amounts that are needed. The state
is sitting on dollars. It all needs to be released.”

Coller has also entered into a collaboration with the Lussier Community
Education Center’s Pledge My Check Program. People pledge their stimulus
checks to some of Madison’s most needy families. The proceeds will then
be split between families served by Lussier and Centro Hispano.

“These funds will be dedicated to families that I know are being burdened
by COVID-19 and immigration issues that are really heavy in their lives, not
only being undocumented, but also issues of deportation or other more
severe things that are happening that have them connected to the system,”
Coller said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. Through the efforts of
LCA and others, the relief will be spread around to take away some of
everyone’s pain.

For more information about the relief effort or to make a contribution, visit