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/>