Qualitative report shows direct cash assistance provided through the CARES Act was used to cover basic needs, strengthen financial health, and helped prevent a massive increase in poverty in New York City

New York, NY – October 27, 2021 – Today, Robin Hood, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the Columbia Population Research Center and Vicki Lens of Hunter College – CUNY, released its latest Poverty Tracker report that demonstrates how direct cash payments provided through the CARES Act, including stimulus payments and expanded unemployment insurance benefits, helped New Yorkers get by during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new qualitative report, “Spotlight On Direct Cash Benefits during the Pandemic,” builds on preliminary findings from another Poverty Tracker report, projecting that cash benefits and government transfers, including those provided through the CARES Act, kept one million New Yorkers out of poverty during 2020 and prevented a much more sizable increase in poverty than New York City would have seen absent these policy interventions.

These qualitative findings provide a detailed look at how cash benefits helped New Yorkers make ends meet amid unprecedented levels of unemployment

Even though 49% of all workers and 57% of low-wage workers in New York City lost employment income in the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary estimates show that the cash-based policy interventions blunted a historic rise in New York City’s poverty rate.

The report finds that cash assistance was, first and foremost, used to cover basic needs, like rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and food. Once basic needs were met, New Yorkers used cash assistance to strengthen their overall financial health, either by paying down credit card debt or shoring up their savings to help mitigate future economic shocks. And while some have questioned whether cash assistance has acted as a disincentive to work, this data revealed that finding work remained a priority for underemployed New Yorkers, with many searching beyond their typical occupations and fields.

“Direct cash payments provided New Yorkers with a lifeline, keeping millions of New Yorkers fed, housed, and safe while people continued to look for work during an evolving pandemic,” said Richard R. Buery, Jr. CEO of Robin Hood. “Our Poverty Tracker data not only show that government policies and cash assistance helped forestall a massive increase in poverty in New York City, but also dispel a troublesome myth suggesting that direct cash assistance was a disincentive for returning to work. In fact, the quandary most unemployed New Yorkers faced was when and how, and not if, to return to work. This report demonstrates the power of direct cash payments, providing people with dignity and autonomy while serving as a prudent tool for fighting poverty.”

“Our study demonstrates the resilience and financial management skills of suddenly unemployed New Yorkers, who used their unemployment insurance benefits and stimulus payments to insure their current and even future economic survival while searching for a way to return to work,” said Vicki Lens, Professor of Social Work at Hunter College – CUNY and lead researcher on this report.

Since 2012, the Poverty Tracker has surveyed a representative sample of New Yorkers every three months, providing critical information on the dynamics of poverty and other forms of disadvantage in the city while tracking data on employment, assets and debts, and health. The Poverty Tracker has monitored the impacts that COVID-19 and the related economic downturn has had on life in New York City since the onset of the pandemic. The results discussed in this report come from a series of qualitative interviews conducted between June 2020 and May 2021.

You can read the highlights and the full report here.

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About Robin Hood:

Robin Hood has been fighting poverty in New York City since 1988. Because Robin Hood’s board covers all overhead, 100% of every donation goes directly to the poverty fight. Last year, Robin Hood awarded $172 million in grants, filling a critical void during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing cash assistance, meals, housing, healthcare, education, and other urgent needs to one million New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19, as well as funding an array of programs and initiatives developed to elevate families out of poverty in New York City. Follow the organization on Twitter @RobinHoodNYC and learn more at www.robinhood.org.

About the Center on Poverty and Social Policy (CPSP): The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the Columbia School of Social Work produces cutting-edge research to advance our understanding of poverty and the role of social policy in reducing poverty and promoting opportunity, economic security, and individual and family-wellbeing. The Center’s work focuses on poverty and social policy issues in New York City and the United States.

About Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC): The Columbia Population Research Center supports population health researchers across Columbia University, galvanizing new interdisciplinary and cross-campus collaborations, promoting the professional development of junior scientists, and enabling members to do work that is more innovative and impactful. Our members’ interests encompass four primary research areas: Children, Youth, and Families; Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS; Immigration/Migration; and Urbanism, with cross-cutting attention to inequalities and policies to mitigate those inequalities.

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