As leaders of two of the largest Western Slope organizations working directly with Latinos and Latinas, we’ve seen firsthand the disproportionate impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our community. Our organizations have had to be nimble, and shift our services in response to the crisis.
We are on the frontlines of caring for our fellow Coloradans — oftentimes when no one else is able to step up to meet the need.
For example, after many months of advocacy at the state level to add more equity in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout program, Glenwood Springs-based Voces Unidas rolled up its sleeves to offer free vaccine clinics in our valleys, in partnership with the Governor’s Vaccine Equity Team, the Colorado Department of Public Health, and other local partners. Those clinics led by— and for — our community ensured more access points for Latinos who were being unintentionally left behind by traditional health care systems.
In Montrose, local governments and nonprofits proved to be adept at quickly providing information to the broader community at the ousted of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not extend to people of color, immigrant groups, and non-English speakers. The Montrose-based Hispanic Affairs Project (HAP), which promotes the integration of immigrants in Western Colorado, identified the communications needs and filled the gap in a timely fashion.
Because HAP has spent years developing a database of contacts, we communicated important information — including education on mask-wearing and social distancing early in the pandemic and later coordinating efforts to drive people to vaccine events —via phone calls, text messages and social media posts.
There is still unmet demand for assistance and support for low-income immigrants and migrant families — especially in rural communities — and a need for more resources to achieve better outcomes. Yet, many organizations saw donations dwindle and their budgets shrink during the pandemic — often as they saw surges in demand for services or had to expand the scope of their missions to help people in need.
Thankfully, we have an opportunity to use one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help.
Representatives Edie Hooton and Leslie Herod as well as Senators Julie Gonzales and Bob Rankin are sponsoring House Bill 22-1356 —the Small Community-based Nonprofit Grant Program. This bill will provide one-time funds to support small nonprofits — and therefore support the Coloradans they serve. It will help organizations adopt new technologies and infrastructure, develop and implement strategic plans, provide professional development for staff and board members, and improve communications.
This measure is critical for our underserved communities and the nonprofits who have been working around the clock for nearly two years to ensure Colorado families have the services they need.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the pandemic disproportionately hit communities of color. Consider that: Latinos account for 22% of Colorado’s population but 28% of cases; Blacks account for 4% of the population but 7% of the cases.
Through surveys conducted for our first-ever Colorado Latino Policy Agenda we learned how the pandemic impacted livelihoods and families in our community. In a poll of 1,000 Latino adults across the state, we found:
60% had their work hours or pay cut, or had someone in their household lose their job;
56% had difficulty paying their bills or utilities;
50% had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage;
33% have not had enough food to eat.
You simply cannot overstate the pandemic’s impact on the Latino community across Colorado — and that carries over to the organizations that serve them.
These organizations stepped in to partner with governments and fill the gaps in programs that often don’t serve or underserve the less fortunate, non-English speakers, immigrants or those who live in rural areas. They did heroic work in trying circumstances.
Now, we must step in and help those who helped so many of our fellow Coloradans by urging lawmakers to pass HB 22-1356 and extend this financial lifeline to community non-profits.
This is a co-authored opinion editorial by Alex Sánchez and Ricardo Perez. Alex Sánchez is the president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, two Latino-created, Latino-led advocacy organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties; Ricardo Perez is the executive director of the Hispanic Affairs Project of Western Colorado based in Montrose.