Alicia Rueda spends most of her days surrounded by bright roses shipped fresh from her native Ecuador, running a small import business in Flushing, Queens.
And while her job is colorful, it isn’t easy.
“I love my work,” she says, “but there’s a lot of competition here, so that makes it difficult.”
Life has been a struggle for Alicia and her husband Diego since leaving Ecuador three years ago with their three kids, two daughters, 26 and 11, and one son, 6.
Providing for their family in New York City has been an ongoing challenge.
Diego works long hours — sometimes up to 60 hours a week — in a parking lot. When the couple first moved here, he was lucky to get five hours of work per week. Now he rarely turns down a shift.
Alicia had a part-time job at a flower shop, where her weekly wage was just $300. Unfortunately, she was let go.
Determined to succeed, Alicia used her expertise in roses to start her own import business. She now works at home so she can also care for her family. Though she’s familiar with the industry and motivated, it is hard to compete with the well-established importers in the city.
“This is what I’ve always done, and I appreciate it because I can be with my kids,” she said. “But I’ve realized that others are already established so it’s not going to be as easy as I thought.”
To stay afloat, Alicia knows she needs to invest into growing her business, but money is in short supply with a family to support.
Fortunately, Alicia and her family aren’t alone on their uphill climb. They have had a steady ally by their side every step of the way: the Food Bank for New York City, a Robin Hood-funded emergency food provider that offers a range of services for low-income New Yorkers.
She and her husband first visited the Food Bank seeking help applying for food stamps, but the organization has now become their primarily lifeline as they have adjusted to life in the city.
“Anything that we have a question about, whatever we want to accomplish, we go to the Food Bank and they help us figure out how to get things done.”
“Anything that we have a question about, whatever we want to accomplish, we go to the Food Bank and they help us figure out how to get things done,” she said.
Working with Food Bank staff, Alicia and Diego have built up their credit, received financial counseling and support, and enrolled in city programs. When Alicia was first starting her business, the Food Bank helped her complete the paperwork she needed. Most recently, they helped her enroll in English classes.
“I’ve realized that starting a business it’s very important to learn English,” she said. “I’m hoping the opportunity to invest money in my business comes along because I want to continue.”
Perhaps most importantly, staff there help the couple complete their taxes each year and take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax benefit for lower-income earners that provides vital funds to put towards big expenses like a family’s education, rent payments, or childcare.
For Alicia and Diego, their tax refund — more than $10,000 in 2015 and nearly $8,000 last year — helped them buy furniture for their apartment, pay off bills, and make car payments.
“We wait for it all year,” she said.
The refund is a major infusion of cash that they have come to depend on. It was the equivalent of nearly five months of work or roughly a quarter of the $34,000 they earned last year.
“Life here is very different,” Alicia said. “There’s a lot of beauty in it but it’s difficult. We’re trying to move forward.”
With the help of the Food Bank, they now have a partner that will be with them every step of their journey.
By: Matt Hansen
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has proven to be one of the most effective tools in fighting poverty, helping millions of hard-working Americans each year. In 2015, families received over $3,000 on average on their tax returns from EITC. Yet despite its effectiveness, in New York City alone, an estimated 300,000 people who are eligible do not apply, leaving millions of dollars in already allocated federal funds unclaimed each year.
To overcome the stigma, confusion, concern about the process, lack of awareness, and misinformation that keep New Yorkers from applying for EITC and other critical benefits, Robin Hood has launched a massive multi-pronged campaign. Dubbed “Start By Asking,” this unprecedented campaign attempts to encourage as many as 800,000 low-income New Yorkers to enroll in critical government programs. If you or anyone you know might be eligible for EITC, SNAP aka Food Stamps, or WIC, call 3–1–1 or visit startbyasking.org.