Getting ahead of the curve: Resources for parents who are laid off or struggling during the COVID-19 Crisis

by Diana Hembree

Black families have been hard hit by the spread of COVID-19.

“African Americans tend to have disproportionately higher rates of what we call ‘core morbidities’ that make COVID-19 worst – things like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and asthma,” California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, MD, told the Sacramento Observer. “We’re really focused on being able to really get ahead of the curve in terms of preventing the worsening of these stress-related diseases. For me, that feels like a really important part of protecting our African American community.”

Dr. Burke Harris said the state is working extra hard to extend telehealth for phone and video check-ups during this time, as well as connecting patients to the resources and support they need to take care of their health during this time. “If we are serious, if we really want to change those outcomes, every doctor in the state of California needs to understand the science of stress-related disease, how it gets under our skin and changes our biology, and what we can do about it,” Dr. Burke Harris told the Observer. “We are going to be needing trauma-informed care now more than ever. That’s one of the pieces I’m really most excited about.”

As we head into May, you may have heard that California and many other states will likely be “sheltering in place” a lot longer than expected. Even though this is saving lives, it’s still hard news if your family is living paycheck to paycheck.

If your job has shut down during the crisis and you’re unable to work from home, you may need – and definitely deserve – some real assistance during the pandemic. Fear of contagion and the stress and tension of not knowing where the next rent or mortgage payment is coming from – or even the next meal – is putting a terrible strain on families, some of whom are already dealing with chronic illness.

Since my last column, more resources have become available for families who need medical care, including telehealth visits with their doctor or mental health care. In addition, there are more places you can turn to if you need help with education, food, healthcare, housing, loans, rental or mortgage assistance, immigration and other issues during the pandemic. Here’s a short-list of resources to check out:

Black-parents-helping-children-with-homework-in-kitchen-1400x933, Getting ahead of the curve: Resources for parents who are laid off or struggling during the COVID-19 Crisis, Culture Currents

Business and personal loans

The International Jewish Free Loan Association is offering non-interest loans to individuals and small business owners of all faiths. In Los Angeles and Ventura counties, individuals can receive up to $3,000 in a COVID-19 emergency loan and small businesses up to $18,000 in non-interest loans; check the IJFLA website for the association nearest you.


School districts have been working hard to hand out computers and get online learning plans out to their students. Elementary and middle school students tend to have trouble with executive function – that is, organization, self-control, prioritizing and so on – so you may need to take over what used to be their teacher’s job: Sitting down with them each day to help them draw up a schedule. Don’t hesitate to call the teacher if you need help – just remember that many of them have small children at home, too, and would welcome your support.

Also, take advantage of the many free educational resources for kids online, including these for your children stuck at home. One of my personal favorites is DuoLingo, a free program that makes learning language easy and fun. My daughter is working on her Spanish with it and improving by the minute.

Emergency funds for domestic workers

Housecleaners and other domestic workers may be ineligible for unemployment insurance, especially if they are paid in cash. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has started a Coronavirus Care Fund with $400 grants in emergency aid to help workers stay safely at home , giving preference to those who have worked with the organization.

Emergency funds for restaurant workers and other service employees

One Fair Wage Emergency Fund was set up to help struggling service workers, including restaurant workers, delivery workers, car service drivers, and personal service workers, during the pandemic. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC Relief) is also offering a disaster relief fund for restaurant workers.

Emergency relief funds for communities from artists to frontline workers

Giving Compass and the National Center for Family Philanthropy focus on equity in their comprehensive list of COVID-19 relief funds across the United States.

Emotional well-being

If you’re suffering from anxiety, stress or depression during this time, call the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990), which is available to anyone suffering mental anguish from COVID-19.

Food resources

With 26 million newly unemployed Americans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are going hungry, with food insecurity in some areas growing by eight-fold. Food Insecurity in the Time of COVID 19: A California Primer, commissioned by the Centers for Care Innovation, is an exhaustive guide to government agencies, schools, nonprofits, central kitchens, food banks, relief organizations and online resources offering food and meals to those who need them.

Schools across the country have stepped up in a big way: The Berkeley Unified School District is providing free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 and under, including those who do not live in Berkeley or attend BUSD schools, and the Oakland Unified School District is also offering free Grab and Go breakfasts and lunches for its students.

The San Francisco Unified School District has gone one better in giving youngsters free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in take-out bags for the duration of the crisis. Wherever you live, check your school district website or call to see whether your child’s school is offering free meals, as well as your local food banks, places of faith and central kitchens.

Go Fund Me drives for small businesses

The federal small business paycheck protection program ran out of money quickly, especially for businesses in blue states. Congress is considering further loans; however, if you still need money to cover expenses and cannot get a bank loan quickly enough, consider posting a Go Fund Me and perhaps contacting the media to see whether they are profiling struggling businesses.

In New Orleans, African American grocery store owner Burnell Cotlon, who owns the only fresh grocery in the historic Ninth Ward, told the Washington Post that he had found himself floating customers who had no money for food after they were laid off during the pandemic; with little income coming in, Cotlon himself was in danger of falling behind on his mortgage payment.

“A mask can’t protect us from our history,” he told the Post. The awesome news: Wapo’s story inspired a GoFundMe for the grocery that has already pulled in enough to keep it a mainstay of the community for decades to come.


Most clinics are still offering urgent-care visits, vaccinations and prenatal care. Call your clinic since many are doing prenatal and vaccinations at different times (or in different places) than usual to prevent the spread of infection.

In addition, if you have a chronic illness or just need to talk with your provider, many are available to “visit” you over the phone or via video. Many clinics who rarely did telehealth have scrambled to put together the equipment and structures for it almost overnight, so don’t hesitate to get in touch. Some are also offering mental and behavioral health consults and even online-support groups.

Housing and rental resources

Led by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition works with more than 800 local, state and national partners to offer shelter and housing needs for the lowest-income people in impacted areas. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has secured more than 15,000 hotel rooms in an agreement with Motel 6 and other hotels for the unhoused during the COVID-19 crisis.

The National Coalition for the Homeless also offers resources for people currently looking for housing. Call 211 for resources on rental assistance and other resources in your area. Note: You may want to check with United Way first since financial assistance is not always available through 211. (Check my last-month’s SF BayView column for Catholic Charities and other rental assistance places in the Bay Area.)


If you have immigrated from another country, you may want to check out the Informed Immigrant’s Guide to COVID-19 Resources. This is an in-depth guide to undocu-friendly health centers, resources for undocumented workers, Asylum Connection verified LGBTQ+, and much more. Also, check out the Oakland Undocumented Workers Relief Fund, set up by Centro Legal de la Raza and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network‘s safety net fund. California has also set up a California Immigrant Resilience Fund to help workers ineligible for other government assistance.

Indigenous communities

NDN Collective is an indigenous-led organization providing funds and other resources to Native American communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.


OnwardCA is the state’s one-stop shop for everyone in California who’s been affected by job loss. It includes listings for COVID-19 resources and 100,000 jobs. You can also search for food giveaways and other resources by county and zip code.

Medication for addiction treatment

The federal government has changed its rules for addiction treatment during COVID. It now allows doctors to see patients and prescribe medication, in many circumstances, over the phone; clinics also have the discretion to suspend some kinds of drug testing. If you are in a MAT program, call your provider if you need help or a refill.

Prisoners and COVID-19

Prisoners are at grave risk for COVID-19 if there is even one infected person, and some states are releasing low-risk prisoners and taking steps to protect others. Whether you have loved ones in prison or not, The Innocence Project has information on how you can help.

Stimulus checks and unemployment insurance

CAIR-CA has a useful guide to stimulus checks and how much you can expect. In addition, unemployment insurance has been expanded to many groups of people who were formerly ineligible, including gig workers, freelancers, self-employed workers and owners of S corporations and LLC businesses.

In California, the website for applying for this pandemic unemployment insurance is slated to open up on April 28. It will provide up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance and is retroactive to Feb. 2. Find out more in the San Francisco Chronicle’s article on unemployment insurance during COVID-19. For an article about the failings of unemployment nationwide and how it could be strengthened, check out this Brookings Institute report.

Diana Hembree is a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at Time Inc., the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Energy Bioscience Institute and has written or edited for Forbes, HealthDay, the Washington Post, PBS Frontline, Vibe and many other places. She can be reached at