The Good and the Bad in the Stimulus Bill

After weeks of intense debate and nego­ti­a­tions, Con­gress passed an eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­age that is head­ed to Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk for his sig­na­ture today. The final law includes spend­ing for domes­tic infra­struc­ture projects, fund­ing to state and local gov­ern­ments, and tax relief in the form of cuts and cred­its. The gov­ern­ment knew that it need­ed to take quick action to pull the econ­o­my out of its down­ward spi­ral, which has affect­ed everyone’s lives – from immi­grants and cit­i­zens, to stu­dents and seniors, to the wealthy and the work­ing-class.

No one can claim to be unscathed by the reces­sion that we are going through, includ­ing H‑1B work­ers. Vast num­bers of South Asians rely upon this visa, includ­ing lawyers, engi­neers, artists, and sci­en­tists. Yet many fear los­ing not only their jobs, but also their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, dur­ing these rough eco­nom­ic times. Take, for instance, Shali­ni, whose sto­ry was cap­tured by Lit­tle India

Shali­ni (name altered), who came to New York City from Mum­bai one year ago to work with Ernst & Young, is cop­ing with just such an even­tu­al­i­ty. With­in a few months she was pro­mot­ed from assis­tant man­ag­er to man­ag­er in her divi­sion. How­ev­er, in Novem­ber, the com­pa­ny let her go. Her first thought was, “How am I going to find anoth­er job in the next six weeks in this kind of envi­ron­ment?”

Shali­ni is on an H1‑B work per­mit, which means that if she does­n’t find work with­in 30 to 60 days, she has to leave the coun­try. Her prospects are bleak. Most com­pa­nies in the U.S., India and across the world have either frozen hir­ing or are sack­ing their work­force. Shali­ni has real­ized that there is no safe­ty net in the U.S. with­out a Green Card or cit­i­zen­ship. So she is fol­low­ing the exam­ple of sev­er­al NRIs [non-res­i­dent Indi­ans], who have applied to non‑U.S. com­pa­nies, sent resumes to con­tacts in cor­po­rate India, put up notices to sell their homes and fur­ni­ture, and post­poned plans to get mar­ried or start a fam­i­ly.”  [Lit­tle India]

These work­ers help build the vibrant inno­va­tion of this coun­try. In fact, Thomas Fried­man had a thought-pro­vok­ing piece in The New York Times recent­ly about how we need more immi­grants, not less, because it’s good for the Amer­i­can econ­o­my …

“We live in a tech­no­log­i­cal age where every study shows that the more knowl­edge you have as a work­er and the more knowl­edge work­ers you have as an econ­o­my, the faster your incomes will rise. There­fore, the cen­ter­piece of our stim­u­lus, the core dri­ving prin­ci­ple, should be to stim­u­late every­thing that makes us smarter and attracts more smart peo­ple to our shores. That is the best way to cre­ate good jobs.” [New York Times]

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Con­gress went the oth­er way on this issue. As part of the stim­u­lus bill, finan­cial insti­tu­tions receiv­ing fund­ing through the Depart­ment of Treasury’s Trou­bled Assets Relief Pro­gram (or TARP) intend­ed to sta­bi­lize the finan­cial mar­kets, must jump through extra hoops before they can hire H‑1B work­ers. Giv­en the immense con­tri­bu­tions of H‑1B work­ers to help Amer­i­ca remain on the cut­ting-edge, it makes you won­der if this is not only bad news for South Asians, but bad news for the econ­o­my.

How the Economic Downturn is Affecting Nonprofits

In times of eco­nom­ic cri­sis, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions often see an increase in the need for ser­vices. SAALT’s part­ners who pro­vide ser­vices to South Asian com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are observ­ing an increased need for hous­ing, job train­ing, and ben­e­fits due to lay­offs, lack of jobs, and the down­turn in the econ­o­my.  At the same time, non-prof­its too are fac­ing the bur­den of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and are hav­ing to lay off staff, reduce pro­gram­ming, and dip into reserve funds.

As Daniel Gross, a finan­cial edi­tor at Newsweek, point­ed out as ear­ly as June of 2008, dona­tions from indi­vid­ual donors are down from what they used to be. And with 80 per­cent of sup­port to non-prof­its com­ing from 20 per­cent of the peo­ple in Amer­i­ca, any reduc­tion in giv­ing can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on non-prof­it groups.

How can South Asians who are able to give sup­port the non-prof­its that are so crit­i­cal in our local com­mu­ni­ties? Why give at all? Read an excerpt from a post from Sayu Bho­jwani (for­mer Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Youth Action and former Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs for New York City on the South Asian Philanthropy Project blog about the importance of strategic giving within the South Asian community:

South Asian phil­an­thropy has until recent­ly meant con­tribut­ing to caus­es in the home coun­try and to region­al and reli­gious asso­ci­a­tions here in the U.S. As the com­mu­ni­ty matures, accu­mu­lates wealth, and increas­es in num­ber, more South Asian Amer­i­cans are con­tribut­ing to insti­tu­tions in the Unit­ed States, tar­get­ing resources to issues of con­cern in the com­mu­ni­ty. Strate­gi­cal­ly uti­lized, the “brown dol­lar” can boost the capac­i­ty of fledg­ling orga­ni­za­tions that serve the needs of minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties across the U.S. and can play a crit­i­cal role in shap­ing per­spec­tives about South Asians in the broad­er Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

In the fif­teen years or so that I have been work­ing in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and in phil­an­thropy, I have been frus­trat­ed by the piece­meal approach that peo­ple often take to phil­an­thropy. South Asians who give, whether they are wealthy or not, are like most oth­ers who give—responsive to a per­son­al­ized request from a friend or col­league, drawn by a per­son­al con­nec­tion to an issue or orga­ni­za­tion, or moti­vat­ed by the need to meet a cer­tain end-of-year lev­el of giv­ing

Read more here <http://southasianphilanthropy.org/2009/02/02/sapp-blog-forum-sayu-bhojwani/>