Liaisons: Association for Africans Living in Vermont Interpreted in: Nepali
The following summarized comments are the opinions and observations of Bhutanese Nepali community members in the Summer of 2020.
Environment (Air/Water/Waste/Outdoor Access)
Noticeable lack of conversation regarding environment, water, air, waste. Conversations were largely focused on economic and health challenges the community faced during COVID-19.
- Many participants reported losing their jobs due to the pandemic.
- Several did not know how to file for unemployment benefits, they only knew how to access resources in person at the county offices but could not access services since the offices were closed.
“If we need help, we go to the offices, but I didn’t fill out the unemployment paper. I heard you need to fill out unemployment online. I don’t have access to it or I don’t know how to do it, so I did not apply.”
- Those who did access unemployment benefits were concerned they could lose it at anytime, and it was not enough to cover their costs. Some experienced delays in receiving their benefits and could not get assistance to remedy their issues.
“In the month of June, I really had difficulty. I was not getting any money. I did apply for unemployment, the problem was they told me they already had sent money in my account, but I was not getting it. And I could not go and approach someone for help as I used to before Corona. It was just impossible for me.”
- At least 5 cases were reported where people received notices from the Department of Labor asking them to pay back $10-15,000 of unemployment benefits due to misrepresentation on their claims. The unemployment forms were not available in their native language, and all of the people reporting this issue did not speak or read English. AALV caseworkers have been helping them through the appeals process, but it is very time consuming and stressful:
“People have been depressed and really detrimentally affected by this. When they’re applying for unemployment, they mistakenly give wrong information and now people have been getting letters saying they have to pay the money back to the Department of Labor because they falsified information on their initial claim. That’s been a big issue in terms of language access, and now that it’s coming back to the community, people are really saddened by this.”
- Unemployment forms are in English, leading many LEP people to make errors on their unemployment claim forms. AALV reported many cases among the Bhutanese Nepali community where individuals were sent notices that they had misrepresented information on their application forms and need to pay back their benefits. AALV caseworkers report it has been very difficult walking people through the appeals process on this issue:
“And now people have been getting letters saying they have to pay the money back to the Department of Labor because they falsified information on their initial claim. That’s been a big issue in terms of language access, and now that it’s coming back on the community, people are really saddened by this. They’re getting repayment letters for $10,000, $12,000 and they’re like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do!’ People have been depressed and they’re really detrimentally affected by this.”
- Dedicated caseworkers through organizations like AALV were critical in helping community members access resources that were available to them:
“I was having a lot of issues at that time because I thought filing unemployment was not going to help me and they are not going to provide me any money. So I called back my company to tell them I need to pay my loan, I need to buy food, I need to buy clothes for my kids, I just have the bills to pay. But the company said we are closed, we cannot do anything. So I had no idea where to go and ask for help. Somehow [AALV caseworker] knew I was having problems so he called to help me.”
- Many issues with affording child care:
“I have one daughter and my husband died of cancer about 1 ½ years back. I don’t have any family members over here and I have only a daughter with me. I’m worried, where will I bring my daughter when I go to work?”
Food & Transportation
- Participants were very grateful that the public bus was free during the pandemic
- Many participants relied on community members for transportation to the store
“And for the grocery store, Nepali brothers and sisters have been helping me.”
- Lots of fear and anxiety surrounding Covid, uncertainty of how seriously to take the virus. Several participants reported increased depression and fear for their children.
“It was very scary. We have not had any help, we haven’t asked for it but I’ve been trying to counsel her and explain ‘if you get Covid, it’s not that you’ll die immediately’ so I’ve been trying to talk to her. None of my family members have had it, it’s just the news. Everyone, everywhere is talking about pandemic, Covid, thousands of people dying. That puts some scariness in her mind.”
“I was so scared, I felt like maybe I might die too, or my husband, and what is going to happen to my young kids if both of us will die?”
- People reported slow responses from the city in supplying people with masks and sanitizer.
“At the very beginning, I used to think OK, if I die or if I don’t get masks and I die it’s ok, but my daughter should survive, at least she should get masks and sanitizers. After about 20 days when City Hall started distributing the masks, I got access to the masks. And then we started getting sanitizer too.”
- Limited access to healthcare put additional strain on many with pre-existing conditions.
- One participant reported having severe tooth pain and not being able to eat anything but soft rice for 21 days before he could see a dentist to get an extraction.
- Participants reported difficulty in making doctors appointments. Regular check ups were cancelled, including for people with chronic illness such as lung issues.
“My son has been sick and he has not been getting appointments. That’s what I’m worried about. They say everything is packed in the hospital.”
- Communities with strong ties are more resilient during disasters.
“I started making masks on a sewing machine, I got from a tutorial on YouTube. I watched YouTube and made those masks. I have already made 3,500 masks in the course of the pandemic, it’s fun to help the community. I really respect the community members, they supported me with money and materials, they are very cooperative. I really respect them. There were people who didn’t take the mask but still they offered me $50 or $60 and I made a lot of kid masks and adult masks.”
Housing & Energy
- Several participants were unable to pay rent for many months, but did not know about rental forgiveness and assistance programs.
- There was confusion over how to access assistance programs:
“I have been unemployed since the second week of March, my company has not called me back to work. I have been living in Burlington, VT, and the house is in section 8, and I have not paid rent. My question is, I haven’t paid rent so what’s going to happen?”
- Uncertainty regarding assistance program guidelines and eligibility:
“When both of us were not working, we didn’t pay any bills, but there are utility costs which we might have to pay, but for the rent if no one is working, then you don’t need to pay, that’s what my understanding is.”
- Confusion regarding whether applications were being processed:
“My concern is I don’t have housing [assistance], I live in a 1 bedroom apartment. The rent is 1400 per month. On top of that I need to pay the utility bill. I did apply for housing [assistance] and it’s been more than 36 months, I am in a queue? I don’t know what’s going on. That’s my question.”
- Many relied on assistance from community members and organizations like AALV to complete paperwork:
“In the very beginning there was one paperwork [rental assistance application], that’s all I did. That was through the help of someone who works in afterschool where my daughter goes. I did apply for that paperwork on March 18, and after that I haven’t heard anything regarding that.”
Emergency Communications & Equal Access
- Some participants accessed emergency information on COVID-19 from hospital websites and through the Governor’s conferences
- Some received critical information from their neighbors, community organizations, and media:
“When Covid just started, I had no idea about what this Covid is, and then I started getting a little more info from a community member.”
“For information we hear something on television or we hear from our friends or neighbors if they have to say anything.”
- Delay in translated information from the State and the schools left LEP individuals feeling uninformed and overly stressed. Some had to rely on school social workers who speak other languages to assist families receive critical information:
“I think her school is starting on the 8th of this month I guess, I’m not so sure about it and I don’t have more information. My daughter has a social worker in her school, I’ll be calling her for more information.”
- Access to government services was limited by the pandemic, which was especially stressful for LEP population:
“Even to go to some offices and organizations to ask for help, we cannot go there because everything is closed. You can’t go anywhere to ask for help. You cannot approach people as easily as you used to do before.”
- Some experienced difficulty in obtaining translators and interpreters which contributed towards possible issues with continuing citizenship process:
“People are asking when we are going to have citizenship classes so that they can start prepping for the citizenship application. For some of them it’s time sensitive, and if they don’t apply on time they can’t apply for social security benefits or things like that.”
“Yes, language access has been really difficult, 100% difficult. She applied for citizenship and then when she was about to take the exam, it was in English. So if she got a Nepali translator, it might have been a little bit helpful for her to get that exam.”
- Lack of translated online material led to mistakes in applications and limited access to resources.
Citizenship: “I am having difficulty getting citizenship. Last time they did not get me an interpreter, so I’m not sure whether they are going to give me an interpreter this time when I take my citizenship test. So getting citizenship has been difficult for me.”
- Bhutanese Nepali woman registered for her Learner’s Permit and accidently clicked “yes” on the part of the form that asks would you like to register to vote. She was then automatically registered, despite not yet being a U.S. citizen:
“She received a letter saying ‘congratulations, you are registered to vote in the state of Vermont’ and she is not a citizen yet. And it is problematic because when she goes for a biometric, a fingerprint, they will pull out the record, and if they find out that she is registered to vote, then it will jeopardize her citizenship process because she cannot register to vote if she’s not a citizen.”
AALV case worker contacted the Secretary of State to assist with resolving this issue.
“It just explains that because of the language and also the technology for adults not being friendly, and you have to do everything online with Department of Labor, and Department of Occupation, so I think that’s a big issue for a lot of the people.”
Summary compiled by: Jennifer Byrne, Fellow Environmental Justice Clinic Vermont Law School REJOICE 2021