In early March, as the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic was coming into focus, cities around the world faced a new reality as sudden stay-at-home restrictions were rapidly implemented to contain the novel spread of the virus. For city leaders in the United States, these abrupt measures had widespread implications on their residents, shuttering businesses and putting millions out of work.
Cities struggled to identify the most secure way to get people the help they needed and fast, but the traditional fund collection and disbursement infrastructure was not equipped to quickly and securely reach people and businesses in need. Additionally, traditional financial assistance programs are usually administered by counties, states and the federal government, not cities, and those systems rely on cumbersome, check-based systems that are difficult to adjust in a crisis.
Given the health and public safety concerns associated with traditional assistance programs, city leaders were eager for an alternative solution to quickly raise and distribute funds.
Through City Possible, Mastercard works with cities across the globe to understand their pain points, identify challenges, and co-create solutions that advance inclusive and sustainable urban development. Since its inception, City Possible has facilitated a community for members to draw on the collective expertise and resources of all stakeholders in order to scale innovative solutions that address urban challenges. Never has this framework proven more essential than in the wake of this pandemic.
Mayor Eric Garcetti of the City of Los Angeles, a member of our City Possible tribe, was actively seeking a method to get aid to the large number of Los Angeles residents that were unbanked or living below the poverty line. We collaborated with our longtime partner Accelerator for America, the Mayors Fund of LA, and the City of Los Angeles to create the Angeleno Campaign, a financial assistance program aimed at providing direct relief for Angelenos in need.
Leveraging our donation solutions and disbursements technology, the Angeleno Campaign distributed approximately $25 million in assistance through nearly 27,000 cards and reached roughly 70,000 Los Angeles residents in just a few short months.
It is inspiring to see the profound impact that the program has had on the lives of its recipients. Many beneficiaries of the Angeleno Card said it was the difference between paying rent that month or purchasing food for their families. Maria, a single mother of four children who has worked in the cleaning industry for more than five years, said the Angeleno Card helped her avoid accumulating debt and enabled her to pay for her bills and rent.
Providing money in the form of no-fee debit cards proved to be a preferred alternative as the cards are more secure than cash, and unlike checks, they don’t require bank accounts or time for the money to clear. Unbanked individuals avoided predatory fees that can occur when trying to cash their checks outside a bank.
In the first week of the Angeleno Campaign, the campaign received applications from 133 different cities across the country, even though the program is open to only Los Angeles residents, further signaling that the demand for such a system traversed state lines. This kicked off an initiative to take this model to cities across the country.
Today, in partnership with Accelerator for America and funded by a $750,000 grant from Open Society Foundations, we announced the expansion of the model to help more communities stand up the infrastructure needed to successfully administer a large-scale financial assistance program. The 10 communities include: Atlanta, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Dayton, Ohio, Birmingham, Ala., Oklahoma City, Okla., Salt Lake City, Utah, Louisville, Ky., Austin, Texas, and the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The program allows states and cities to fundraise locally and through Accelerator for America as well as deliver the donations directly to families most in need via a prepaid card, ensuring the rapid deployment of aid and secure access for the unbanked.
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The initiative was kicked off during John Legend’s Father’s Day special broadcast Sunday nationally on ABC, which featured the Angeleno Card story and announced that the expansion of the program into 10 additional communities nationwide.
This expansion of the program builds on Mastercard’s work to mobilize our talent, insights, and technology to create solutions that serve communities that are often overlooked by traditional systems, including the unbanked and people of color.