On March 18, a couple days after New York City public schools closed due to the coronavirus, Jasmine Freeman Jones had to resign from her crossing-guard job to take care of her children. Her rent on her Brooklyn apartment was overdue, and she worried about her kids’ education. Although the City promised to send iPads to help them complete the online learning assignments their teachers have given out, the devices still haven’t materialized.
A week ago, Freeman Jones, 27, logged into her Fresh EBT app, which allows food stamp recipients to check their balances without having to call an 800-number. A notification said she would be receiving $1,014 in financial aid from GiveDirectly, a 10-year-old, 250-person New York nonprofit. GiveDirectly is donating $1,000 (plus a few bucks for ATM and withdrawal fees) to extremely poor Americans, and it’s trying to raise $10 million so it can help over 9,000 families.
When Freeman Jones first saw the notification, she doubted it was true. But then she received a debit card and activated it, buying $300 worth of food, an iPad her children could share for school assignments and cleaning supplies. She’s still concerned about how she’ll feed her family in the coming weeks, but for now, the $1,000 check is “like a weight off my shoulders,” she says.
Fintech plays a critical, behind-the-scenes role in this story. To identify qualified recipients quickly, GiveDirectly partnered with Brooklyn fintech startup Propel, whose Fresh EBT app has more than two million low-income users. With GiveDirectly’s guidance, Propel is homing in on the poorest zip codes that have been hardest-hit with coronavirus cases—including New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and New Orleans—to decide who should get paid.
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