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Combating Extreme Poverty During COVID-19

We usually stick to a strict schedule of releasing episodes on Friday, but this week COVID-19 disrupted even that. For the last month, pervasive coverage of the virus has superseded almost all else. Despite the non-stop rigmarole, often overlooked groups of Americans—who currently bear the brunt of the disease—are still ignored. The virus disproportionately impacts minority communities and will likely devastate low-income people around the world. For many of us, a mandatory lockdown is scary, and working from home makes us realize again why offices exist. We’re thankful that we are safe, and so are our families. For millions of Americans, however, the disease and correlated economic downturn bring the specters of bankruptcy, eviction, and foreclosure closer than ever before.

Mila sat down with four leading poverty, homelessness, and bail reform advocates (virtually, of course) to learn how the pandemic has impacted Americans who have faced hardship even before the onslaught of coronavirus. You can listen to the full episode here:

The biggest takeaway we got from our first two guests–UNH professor and poverty expert Stephen Pimare and GiveDirectly Managing Director Joe Huston—was that cash is king. For the week ending March 28, a record-breaking 6.6M Americans filed for unemployment, which doesn’t count many more who weren’t even able to apply. The federal government has taken steps to alleviate the burden,  increasing unemployment benefits and sending out a $1200 check to many. Still, experts warn that these measures may not be enough. The best way to make sure poor Americans survive is ensuring they have access to cash, and quickly.

“We need to get more money into the hands of more people, more quickly,” Pimpare said in our conversation. “If we can’t get more money out faster, then we need to stop the outflows in the most fragile households by eliminating or suspending debt obligations.”

As it turns out, providing direct cash infusions creates a ripple effect that stabilizes families and local economies alike. While structured aid such as food or clothing donations help, providing liquid cash to those in need can make an outsize impact on their wellbeing, says GiveDirectly’s Joe Huston.

“The basic rationale for cash, in general, is that it’s hard and often expensive to try to guess what other people want versus just giving them some money and letting them buy what they want,” he said. “People had different needs and so had different priorities for where they would put the first thousand dollars that they got.”

GiveDirectly has used this approach to combat extreme poverty for more than a decade, with impressive results. Since their inception, they’ve handed out more than $150 million to families in need. Since the beginning of this outbreak, they’ve already helped more than 2000 families in the US and distributed more than $2 million.

At Future Hindsight, we stress the importance of being an engaged community member—even when there isn’t a virus ravaging the nation. It’s more important than ever to be involved now, but it can be hard when you’re not supposed to leave your house. Instead, consider checking out the work GiveDirectly does and, if you’re able, consider helping them by contributing to their COVID-19 response effort of giving $1,000 to each household. You can also participate in a pledge to pass along any federal assistance you receive.

We can only get through this as a nation by working together, and many Americans can only get through this with the help of others. If you’re lucky enough to be still employed or financially secure enough to cover your needs without worry, now is the time to consider giving to those who aren’t.


“I Pledge to #PassTheCheck.” GiveDirectly,

“COVID-19 Emergency Relief: Donate Directly to Families in Need.” GiveDirectly,

Aizenman, Nurith. “Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families.” NPR, NPR, 2 Dec. 2019,

Lobosco, Katie. “Millions of Low-Income Americans at Risk of Missing out on Stimulus Payments.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Apr. 2020,

Luhby, Tami. “Extra $600 Unemployment Benefits Will Start Flowing as Early as This Week for a Lucky Few.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 Apr. 2020,

Semuels, Alana. “Newly Unemployed Are Struggling to Access Stimulus Benefits.” Time, Time, 8 Apr. 2020,

“5 Reasons COVID-19 Will Impact the Fight to End Extreme Poverty.” Global Citizen,

Evelyn, Kenya. “‘It’s a Racial Justice Issue’: Black Americans Are Dying in Greater Numbers from Covid-19.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Apr. 2020,

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