GiveDirectly, a charitable nonprofit whose mission is to “send money directly to the extreme poor,” is today launching an initiative to send those most affected by COVID-19’s economic impact a one-time grant of $1,000 each.
The starting point in assessing the people most in need of the lump sums is to target Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the government’s safety net for assisting the lowest-income families to purchase food, and more commonly known as food stamps. GiveDirectly will use data provided by Propel, a technology company that aims to “help low-income Americans improve their financial health.”
The charity will send the first checks out toward the end of next week, says Joe Huston, the organization’s chief financial officer. Those first 200 or so recipients will be individuals on the more vulnerable side of SNAP, and in the areas most geographically at risk for the coronavirus. When it has finalized the list, the charity will reach out to those people, sign them up, and pay them either with a prepaid, remotely loadable debit card, or via an online wallet.
The entire response, of course, will be determined by how much money can be secured. All the money sent is fundraised, chiefly by independent donors, and it still remains to be seen if any major donors will sign on (past contributors have included the IKEA Foundation and Google.org). “I think the need will be in the millions of households in America, and we’d love to reach as many of those as we can,” Huston says.
During less catastrophic times, at least domestically, the organization focuses on helping the poorest communities in the world, largely operating in distinct ways in seven African countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Morocco. In Kenya, for instance, the charity distributes a universal basic income to numerous villagers, as part of a research program that will span 12 years.
The coronavirus response plan will not redirect funds from the African projects. “Because our other programs are meant to go to people in much more severe poverty,” Huston says, “we will never redirect those funds to go to the U.S.” The goal is to pilot this COVID-19 emergency program in the U.S. and expand it to other countries if and when needed. In 2017, it provided a similar response to natural disasters, sending a total of $10 million to residents of Puerto Rico and Texas affected by Hurricanes Maria and Harvey.
The organization scrambled to put this project together, beginning on Monday of this week. “We were watching the news evolve and the need in the U.S. and globally grow,” Huston says. It’s being offered in addition to any relief packages the government may supply to the public. As discussions about an economic stimulus package continue, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to Senator Mitt Romney, have united around the idea of sending $1,000 checks to American taxpayers, an idea that’s even been floated as a possibility by the White House.
“But, as they try to figure out what that’s going to be,” Huston says, “they’re hung up on the usual partisan issues about whether Bill Gates should get a check, or how to appropriately means-test, or whether it should be a tax rebate,” he says. So, as those negotiations may take a while (and likely won’t end up being enough), GiveDirectly’s funds will at least relieve some of the hardest hit in the meantime.