Methods: Hotel workers were offered prepaid VISA gift cards of $200 for three consecutive months. Data for this study came from monthly surveys worker completed in October 2020 – just before they received assistance – and November 2020 – after the first month of assistance. We also used aggregated VISA transaction data to examine spending patterns. Chi square tests were run to examine pre-post differences in food insecurity and problems paying bills. Probit regression models were run to examine differences by worker characteristics and to estimate probabilities that workers experienced pre-post differences.
Results: Due to the pandemic, most workers had been furloughed (57%), while 30% had been laid off and 13% experienced reduced work hours or pay. Most workers were Black (61%), female (55%), and single (52%). The percentage of workers who said they experienced food insecurity and bill problems dropped from 45% and 67% before assistance to 27% and 58% after assistance, respectively (p < .001). Before assistance, Black workers had much higher rates of food insecurity (56%) and bill problems (79%) than workers with other racial/ethnic identities (26% and 52%, respectively) (p < .001). Predicted probabilities that Black workers reduced food insecurity and bill problems were 25% and 19% compared to 15% and 10% among White workers, respectively (p < .01). Over half of assistance was used on basic needs such as groceries and gas, nearly half was spent on a wider range of categories such as clothing, shoes, and home goods, and less than 3% was used on recreational activities or alcohol.
Conclusions and Implications: Results indicated that the financial assistance program was well targeted and timed to reach hotel workers adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we cannot make causal attributions due to the single group pre-post descriptive design, results suggest that cash assistance may have helped workers during a “drought” of government help. However, short-term financial assistance is a far cry from the structural economic changes needed to raise wages, improve benefits, and expand the social safety net – especially for Black workers who, despite being employed in the same setting and in similar positions faced much greater financial difficulties than other workers.