COVID-19 Financial Survival Guide: What You Need to Know, How to Get Help, and How to Give Help

From our sense of economic security to the safety of our most vulnerable populations, how has the coronavirus crisis disrupted our daily lives? | Credit: Alexander Schneiderman

BY: Maya Navon and Nina Joung

A note from Chasing the Dream: We hope you are staying safe and healthy, and doing what’s needed to take care of the loved ones in your life. We at Chasing the Dream remain committed to reporting stories of poverty, jobs, and income inequality– stories that are critical now more than ever. As the COVID-19 situation evolves day-by-day and even hour-by-hour, we will continue to update this guide and tell the stories that emerge. 

As the entire world adjusts to the changes brought on by COVID-19, those already experiencing socio-economic hardships will be hit more profoundly than others. In addition to the horrific health implications of the coronavirus, the stresses associated with the pandemic – unemployment, unstable housing, food insecurity, social isolation, limited access to medical care – compound the challenges faced by those already most vulnerable. 

Further, during these unprecedented times, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. As of April 23th, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits in the past five weeks has reached 26 million. In fact, since March 14, approximately 3.8% of the working age population has filed for unemployment. This historic labor market freefall, coupled with the plunging stock markets and the country moving toward another Great Depression, has created an uncertain and bleak economic reality for all Americans and put an even bigger strain on those who were already struggling. 

Our COVID-19 financial survival guide tells you:

What you need to know about the various issues affecting people across the country

How and where you can get help

How you can give help to those who are hurting the most



From Uber drivers to Air BnB hosts, what will it mean for its millions of workers and how will gig businesses fare during a pandemic?

How is COVID-19 affecting people across the country? What labor groups are most vulnerable to the economic fallout of this crisis and what does the future hold for thousands of industries and workers? Find a curated guide to the key stories emerging from this time. These are some of the issues to watch when it comes to those most vulnerable. 

The Great Divide: The coronavirus crisis is highlighting (and deepening) the divide between the rich and poor. Class differences are being amplified more than ever before, as the image of white collar quarantine and economic reality stand in stark contrast to those of the working class. From the disparity of who has access to coronavirus tests to what life will look like after the pandemic ends, the inequitable reality has put class divide into sharp focus.

“The refrain of the moment has been “We’re all in this together.” But unless the divisions among the living are dismantled, we are not.” (“COVID-19 Shows America’s Class Divide is Untenable,” Shuja Haider, The Nation)

–   White Collar Quarantine Spotlights Divide | The New York Times

–   Why We Can’t Ignore the Link Between Coronavirus, Climate Change, and Inequity | US News & World Report

–   The Coronavirus Puts the Class War Into Stark Relief | New York Magazine

–   COVID-19 Shows America’s Class Divide is Untenable | The Nation

–   Coronavirus Reveals that The Stars are Not Like Us | The Nation

Retail and Service Industry Workers: Those in the retail and service industries whose jobs are crucial in keeping America’s essential services running are fighting back against low-pay, inadequate working conditions, and lack of benefits. Some companies are responding with new benefits policies and health safety measures, but for many workers, not enough is being done. In many ways, the pandemic represents a tipping point for this labor force and will likely bring about long-term structural changes in these industries.

“You can only exploit people for so long before they snap. COVID-19 may have just moved up the timeline.” (“Coronavirus may be a tipping point for labor,” Sarah Jones, New York Magazine)

–   Coronavirus may be a tipping point for labor | New York Magazine

–   Plight of Retail Workers | The New York Times

–   ‘The $2 is insulting’: Retail workers fight for more pay amid coronavirus crisis | LA Times

–   From Walmart to Starbucks, these 22 retail companies are changing their benefits policies amid the coronavirus pandemic | Business Insider

Gig Economies: Gig economy workers are facing similar challenges to their more traditional service industry counterparts. However, for this burgeoning, but new sector, the pandemic is a major test of an entire new economy and its workers. From Uber drivers to Air BnB hosts, what will it mean for its millions of workers and how will gig businesses fare during a pandemic? Some workers are fighting back to secure much needed paid sick leave and safer working conditions, but the pandemic is highlighting structural challenges that need a longterm fix in order to sustain the viability of this sector.

–   A Quarantined Uber’s Drivers Quest for Paid Sick Leave | The New York Times

–   Pandemic Erodes Gig Economy Work | The New York Times

–   How Coronavirus is Affecting Air BnB and Apartment Rentals | New York Magazine

–   The gig economy’s coronavirus test | Axios

–   Coronavirus exposes workers to risks of gig economy | Wired

Rural Communities: While rural communities seemed to be initially isolated and protected from the impact of the coronavirus, many of these communities are still in a vulnerable position. In fact, many communities may take a hit later in this pandemic than urban centers, but lack of healthcare infrastructure and resources may cause more devastation. The average age in most rural communities skews older than the national average, increasing the risk for a higher percentage of life-threatening cases. These compounding factors make it clear that as urban centers start to stabilize, rural communities may be a part of a second wave of risk. 

–   Rural areas may be the most vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak | The Washington Post

–   Rural Towns Insulated From Coronavirus Now May Take A Harder Hit Later | NPR

–  Coronavirus was Slow to Spread to Rural Communities. Not Anymore. | The New York Times

Risks for Black and Brown Americans: The particular risks to Black and Brown Americans of the coronavirus is apparent in both its health and economic impacts. Many Black Americans can’t afford to stop working or work in essential services, continuing to expose themselves to the virus. Plus, for already vulnerable communities like Flint, Michigan, the pandemic has a multiplier effect on communities already dealing with housing, infrastructure, and health issues. In predominantly minority-occupied New York City public housing, residents who already deal with crumbling infrastructure must face the added risk of unprotected workers entering their homes to make repairs. 

WATCH: COVID-19 may not discriminate based on race — but U.S. health care does | PBS NewsHour

–   Most Brown and Black Americans Are Exposing Themselves to Coronavirus for a Paycheck | VICE

–   For vulnerable black communities, the pandemic is a “crisis on top of a crisis” | Vox

–   They Cleaned Other People’s Homes. Now They Fear They are Sick | The New York Times

–   Health issues for blacks, Latinos and Native Americans may cause coronavirus to ravage communities | USA Today

–   NYC Public Housing Workers go to Tenants Homes Without Masks | The City

NYC Industries: In the coronavirus epicenter of New York City, industries unique (and many would say, iconic) to the city are feeling the effects of coronavirus. From the doormen that flank the luxury buildings of the city who are often risking their health to be at work to the taxi industry that was already struggling due to the rise of on-demand and ride-sharing services, iconic New York jobs that are inseparable from the fabric of the city may disappear forever. These realities leave many questioning, what would New York look like without them?

“‘They crippled the business,” [Richard] Brown says, of Uber and Lyft, adding that he’s lost more than half his income as a result of the proliferation of ride-share drivers. “And now the virus here—I don’t know what the next step is.”’ The (“Coronavirus is Devastating an Already Struggling Yellow-Cab Industry,” Murat Oztaskin, The New Yorker)

–   From White Gloves to Latex: The Doormen of New York | The New York Times

–   How Street Vendors Citywide are Feeling the Economic Impact of Coronavirus | NY1

–   The Coronavirus is Devastating an Already Struggling Yellow-Cab Industry | The New Yorker

–   West Side Bodegas and Delis are Bracing for the Worst | New York Magazine

For the Poor, Coronavirus Hits Hard: The most vulnerable among us will be hit the hardest by COVID-19. For Americans below the poverty line and those teetering close to it, the closure of schools, lack of school lunch, layoffs and pay cuts make for a dangerous combination. Some mothers are even skipping meals to ensure their children have enough to eat and are relying on food pantries and school lunch alternatives to get food on the table. It also may take them the longest time to recover from this crisis. For the poor, low wages, unpaid bills, lack of sick leave, lack of access to affordable healthcare, unstable housing, and unsteady employment are all factors that become exacerbated during an emergency or disaster, making the coronavirus a perfect storm for devastation.

“We must be clear: the coronavirus has exposed a pandemic of poverty that was already widespread and accepted in this nation. But the current global health crisis makes clear that the inequality we have too long accepted puts every single American at greater risk.” (“Poverty is the Virus that Puts us at COVID-19 Risk,” William J. Barber and Mitch Landrieu, USA Today)

–   Poverty and Coronavirus | The New York Times

–   The Coronavirus will be a Catastrophe for the Poor | The Atlantic

–   Op-Ed: Poverty is the Virus that Puts us at COVID-19 at Risk | USA Today

–   School Closures are a Crisis for Low Income Families | New York Magazine

–   Poor New Yorkers Need Help Now | The New York Times

Coronavirus and the Incarcerated: Close quarters and inadequate healthcare services, especially for those that have pre-existing health conditions, have criminal justice advocates asking for the accelerated release of prisoners to address the overwhelming rate of infection in jails and prisons. As inmates and staff face a shortage of masks and basic sanitation equipment, governments are trying to find ways to manage the spread, from releasing inmates who had sentences with less than 30 days left or issuing citations for low-level crimes rather than arresting. 

Ongoing reporting on the criminal justice system and the virus from The Marshall Project:

  1. Coronavirus Transforming Jails Across the Country
  2. Coronavirus Tracker: How Justice Systems Are Responding in Each State
  3. They Don’t Care: Families of the Incarcerated Fear the Worst

WATCH: Incarcerated people face potential disaster during outbreak | PBS NewsHour Weekend

–   Jails Are Petri Dishes’: Inmates Freed as the Virus Spreads Behind Bars | The New York Times

–   New coronavirus cases in US jails heighten concerns about an unprepared system | CNN

–   COVID Behind Bars (Interactive Map) | Spearheaded by Adryan Corcione, Freelance Journalist



College food pantry | Source: NJTV News

Whether you’ve lost a reliable source of income or could use some financial guidance on how to get through these uncertain times, we’ve curated a list of programs, grants, and personal finance advice that can lift some financial anxiety. If you aren’t personally experiencing economic hardship during this time, send these resources to someone who may need them or head to our “How to Help” section below.

If you’re unemployed or underemployed:

  1. Get in contact with your state’s unemployment office and look at the resources your state is offering.
  2. Not all artists can apply for unemployment and even doing so may not be enough. Our friends at WBUR have a list of grants and resources that cover both national programs and some local to the Boston area.
  3. From Broadway to Hollywood, the entertainment industry had to go dark in response to coronavirus. Theater and film crews can find support through these various organizations and funds.
  4. If you are undocumented, the Betancourt Macias Family Scholarship Foundation is offering resources to those affected by COVID-19.
  5. The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division offers information that “ensure that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus, while at the same time reimbursing businesses.”
  6. The Paycheck Protection Program offers support for small businesses affected by COVID-19 to continue paying their employees.
  7. Eligible small businesses can apply to the NYC Small Business Continuity Fund.

If you’re experiencing food insecurity:

  1. Find your local food bank anywhere across the country.
  2. Meals On Wheels has over 5,000 independently-run local programs to keep senior citizens nourished and healthy. Find the nearest location for you or a loved one here.
  3. For those living in the New York City area, you can find food bank locations here, you can use this interactive map to local a food pantry or grab-and-go meals from NYC schools in your area. New York City is also offering three free meals to any New Yorker at more than 400 Meal Hub sites.

If you need help navigating your money:

  1. The NY Times Guide on Money is being updated with the latest relief programs and answering your biggest personal finance questions: Your Money: A Hub for Help During the Coronavirus Crisis
  2. Any question you may have about the Coronavirus Stimulus Package can be answered here: Coronavirus Stimulus Package F.A.Q.: Checks, Unemployment and More | The New York Times
  3. Here are some tips from experts on handling your existing finances: Worried about your finances during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some tips. | PBS NewsHour

More ways to get help and stay informed:

  1. Keep up with Coronavirus related news with these reliable Twitter accounts: The best Twitter accounts to follow for reliable information on the coronavirus outbreak | Fortune
  2. Find a variety of CDC informational flyers translated into multiple languages here.
  3. Resources for Rural Americans
  4. This website helps with obtaining benefits relating to unemployment, healthcare, and resources for businesses.
  5. The C19 Help Squad has a list of national and state specific resources to help individuals and marginalized communities affected by COVID-19.



Many schools across the country are continuing to provide free meals to students during the coronavirus crisis. | Source: NJTV News

In a time of so much uncertainty and pain, we also wanted to give our readers and viewers a list of places where they can give help. For those fortunate enough to be in a position to give back during this crisis, there are many organizations looking for financial and goods donations, and even volunteers. Here are some places looking for help.

Healthcare Support

  1. Donate vital PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to frontline healthcare workers. One place you can donate: #GetUsPPE
  2. Donate to The CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund. This fund supplies immediate supplies and emergency staffing to state and local communities responding to Covid-19.

Food Support

  1. Meals on Wheels has started a COVID-19 fund to continue providing meals, visits and safety checks to seniors at a time when grocery trips and visits from loved ones are not possible.
  2. GENYOUth is providing grants to schools to supply much-needed resources for meal distribution and delivery for students during school closures. According to their website, 54.8 million students have been impacted by the school closures – including 30 million children who depend on the USDA’s school meal program.

Local Support

  1. Find your local mutual aid network to provide hyper-local donations to your fellow neighbors: Feeling Powerless About Coronavirus? Join a Mutual-Aid Network | NY Times Op-Ed
  2. Now is the time to show your online support for local businesses. From buying a gift card to simply giving them a boost on social media, there are many ways you can support local businesses from the safety of your home. Here are a few more: 15 Ways To Support Local Business During The Coronavirus Shutdown | Forbes

Criminal Justice

“Many people in jail have not yet been convicted of a crime, yet they are there simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. Community bail funds help to pay their bail on their behalf so they can be released and await trial at home. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing jail populations is one way to help fight the spread of the virus,” according to the Innocence Project. 

  1. Donate to your local community bail fund. Check out the National Bail Fund Network’s comprehensive directory of bail funds by state to find a one near you.
  2. Donate to the New York Parole Preparation Project. The organization is sending money directly to people in prison so they can purchase necessities from their local commissaries, including canned goods and soap, which can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Donations also help cover the costs of phone calls and electronic messaging to enable those who are incarcerated to more easily communicate with people on the outside during this time.

More Ways to Help

  1. From the arts and healthcare to refugees and food support, this guide offers different ways to help the various communities affected by COVID-19: A guide to helping and getting help during the coronavirus crisis | CNN
  2. Here are some organizations that you can donate money, supplies and food to:

*Chasing the Dream does not endorse any of the organizations listed.