Case Study: Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund (WIRF)

FORWARD Impact in Washington State

  • Distributed $312,659,850 in financial assistance to more than 101,678 eligible applicants across Washington state who were excluded from previous rounds of COVID-19 pandemic relief. This was the third round of COVID-19 pandemic relief for immigrants in Washington who would not qualify for employment security benefits and COVID-19 relief provided to documented workers. Approved applicants received an award amount of $3,075 per individual
  • Created the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund (WIRF) Helpline to accommodate speakers of English, Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, Simplified Chinese, and a range of other languages 
  • Identified 4,085 cases of fraud, saving the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) $12,561,375
  • Collaborated with a coalition of community-based organizations to provide outreach and program support

“I’m calling from Seattle, Washington. I have received over $3,000… I want to thank you very much for the love and kindness you give us. Thank you so much for your time and all the work you do. Thank you so much. God bless you.”

Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund Awardee

Program Overview

In September 2022, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) partnered with FORWARD to award and distribute financial assistance to eligible individuals in Washington who were excluded from other COVID-19 pandemic relief measures. This was the third round of COVID-19 pandemic relief for immigrants in Washington who would not qualify for employment security benefits and COVID-19 relief provided to documented workers. 

The first two rounds successfully administered $127.6 million dollars in individual grants. For this round, through Senate Bill 5092, the Washington State Legislature appropriated $340 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to administer the third and largest tranche in the program. 

In partnership with the Washington DSHS, FORWARD, Washington Community Alliance, Pyramid Communications, Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN), and 15 community-based organizations successfully administered $312,659,850 to 101,678 individuals from all 39 counties in Washington, distributing an individual award of $3,075. FORWARD provided infrastructure, technology, and customer support, along with comprehensive program administration services, which included program design, application intake and review, community partner management, award distribution, and reporting. 

FORWARD partnered with JP Morgan & Chase to award checks to approved applicants, and the Blackhawk Network, a comprehensive funding solution, to award prepaid cards to approved applicants.

What were the challenges that the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund faced prior to working with FORWARD?
What solutions did FORWARD provide? 
Unwieldy & burdensome process for managing stakeholders.FORWARD provided dedicated staff to train subcontracted stakeholders and walk them through the entire program. This included technical questions, training in multiple languages, open office hours, and resolving any issues that could arise when partners applied for community members.
Inequitable geographic distribution of awards.All 39 Washington counties had applications and were awarded. This was the first time in all three rounds where this occurred.
Lack of data on call center metrics resulted in long wait times.FORWARD fielded over 200,000 calls, with 73% of  calls in Spanish.
Underutilization of funds, no recapture, and lack of transparency.

In this round, 98.9% of funds awarded were received and activated or cashed.

With FORWARD, only 1.4% of funds were not utilized. FORWARD provided outreach to those who were paid, prompting paid applicants to utilize their funds.

Underutilization of funds, no recapture, and lack of transparency.FORWARD did a full recapture of funds of funds from unactivated prepaid cards and uncashed checks and wired them back to DSHS. Unspent funds were reconciled and returned by wire.
To maintain compliance, program administration needed to remain auditable.FORWARD was the only administrator that could show a full audit trail of customer communication. Due to its robust information tracking system, FORWARD refuted 20 claims made by customers.
No process for denials and appeals.FORWARD was the only administrator to offer denials with an appeal process.
Underutilization of funds, no recapture, and lack of transparency.FORWARD prevented over $12M dollars worth of fraud by implementing a clear process to identify, mitigate, and prevent fraud.

Increasing access to resources through community partnerships

As part of the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund and FORWARD’s efforts to ensure that this program was accessible and equitable to as many Washington immigrants as possible, FORWARD provided dedicated multilingual staff to assist community stakeholders and offered support to each of the 15 stakeholders contracted by DSHS and supplementary subcontractors through personalized training sessions and ongoing assistance conducted in different languages. These efforts made certain that community organizations were fully prepared to assist community members in successfully completing the program application. With support from FORWARD, the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund compensated more than 77.84% of applicants with an annual income of $0 – $32,200.

Applicants self-reported their annual income. Over 77% of applicants reported an annual income of $0 - $32,200.

A Dedicated Multilingual Hotline to Support Underserved Communities

In addition to offering the application in over five languages, a dedicated WIRF Helpline was created in collaboration with Continental Message Solutions (CMS). This resulted in the creation of an Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system that accommodated English, Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, simplified Chinese, and a range of other languages. This ensured callers had the ability to access information and assistance in their preferred language and at their convenience, while preventing dropped calls.   

The WIRF Helpline was designed to roll out in three phases. During Phase One, community members were able to call in to determine program eligibility, apply through the WIRF website, or connect  with the nearest community-based organization through their mobile device. During Phase Two, applicants were able to call in to check their application status, update personal details, and file appeals in the event of a denied application. Phase Three allowed applicants to call in to verify payment status, report missing payments or fraud, and make updates to their mailing address, or report other issues.  

During Phases Two and Three, callers could opt in to receiving a call back from a live agent proficient in the appropriate language, or utilize Language Line, to address any questions or concerns. FORWARD collaborated closely with the Washington DSHS and contracted community stakeholders to develop and deploy the WIRF Helpline to meet the needs of the target population and increase access to funding for underserved communities that face technology and language barriers.

During the duration of the program, data was collected on calls to the WIRF Helpline, with a total of 150,231 calls received through the program’s duration. Call volumes were highest when “Approved” and “Paid” notices were sent out and after payments were made.
79% of incoming calls to the Washington Immigrant Relief Fund Helpline spoke Spanish.

Securely delivering funding through integrated prepaid card payments

FORWARD partnered with Blackhawk Network (BHN) to provide funding to approved applicants through prepaid cards. 

During the payment phase of the program, FORWARD collaborated with BHN to create a dedicated phone line for individuals to inquire about prepaid card balance, report a lost or stolen card, update their address, request a replacement card, and report fraudulent activity or additional issues. Callers were able to inquire about their prepaid cards in multiple languages  including English, Spanish, Korean, simplified Chinese, and Tagalog. 

FORWARD worked with BHN to create a card design that included the WIRF logo, card carrier information in both English and Spanish, clear and user-friendly card activation instructions, and Helpline details. In the previous two rounds of funding, approximately 5% of funds awarded were not activated/cashed. There was no process for recapturing funds, especially those tied back to prepaid cards, so funds left unspent were lost and did not go back to the State. FORWARD tracked the status of awarded prepaid cards and uncashed checks and conducted outreach to those who hadn’t activated their cards or cashed their checks. As a result, only 1.4% of funds were not utilized. FORWARD was able to do a full capture of funds and account for everything. 

Since BHN was able to track spending patterns through their prepaid card system, FORWARD and the Washington Immigrant Relief Fund gained valuable insight into how the funds impacted awardees. The top spending categories included ​food, auto repair and transportation, and clothing.

Developing a state-wide system to prevent fraud

In the third round, FORWARD developed and documented a clear process to identify and prevent fraud and duplicate awards. As a result, FORWARD identified 4,085 cases of fraud, saving the state of Washington $12,561,375. Applications were denied for fraud due to untrue or misleading information, photoshopped or altered documents, or duplicate applications.

FORWARD was able to identify over 4,000 cases of fraud, saving Washington over $12 million.

FORWARD’s collaboration has allowed us to efficiently and quickly provide much needed assistance to community members left out of COVID relief. FORWARD’s streamlined approach and user-friendly solution have empowered our team to reach more individuals and families, making a tangible difference in their lives.”

Beatrice Kiraguri, Executive Director African Young Dreamers, WA COVID-19 Relief Fund Community Partner

Accelerating economic relief in Washington

The partnership between FORWARD, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Blackhawk, Continental Message Solutions, Public Partnership LLC and a coalition of Washington community-based organizations, has been instrumental in the success of the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund. Together, over $312 million in financial assistance was awarded to more than 100,000 eligible individuals to help them  recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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