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Current state and challenges of Korean communities since the pandemic
Date
2023.01.20

Five leaders of a New York-based Korean community gathered at the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. and had a discussion on the current state and challenges of Korean communities since the pandemic.

The representatives from five organizations are Director Jihye Lee from the Korean American Family Service Center, Director Gapsong Kim from the MinKwon Center for Community Action, Executive Director Eunkyung Kim from the YWCA of Queens, President & CEO Myoungmi Kim from the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc., and Ahyoung Kim, the Director of Economic Empowerment from the AAF. Dr. Eunjung Lee from Queen’s College was invited as a host of the meeting.



1. What was your experience like during the pandemic and what kind of services were offered?
• Ahyoung Kim, Director of Economic Empowerment, Asian American Federation
It was a disaster during the pandemic. It was particularly difficult because the information wasn’t shared smoothly. We worked hard to protect small businesses in the first year and we carried out a campaign on the prevention of Asian hate crimes in 2021.


• Myoungmi Kim, President & CEO, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
We all panicked when we heard we need to close down in March 2020. We particularly had a hard time delivering food to the elderly. The kitchen staff could not attend to work, the office staff had to do the delivery. We are still delivering. We collaborated with the City of New York to offer the vaccination service at our building. It was a great opportunity to promote the Korean community to other ethnic groups. The place was also used for testing COVID-19 and all employees cooperated with the procedures. There was a sense of duty to play roles as a nonprofit organization for the community. It was also a pleasure to offer the rental assistance program to Koreans with governmental support.

• Eunkyung Kim, Executive Director, YWCA Queens
All of our programs were carried out online. The shutdown began in March 2020 but we prepared for it since January. We had no problem with running classes online and actually, students have increased compared to offline as many Koreans from other states attended. The senior program was suspended at first but our staff visited students’ homes to help the senior citizens to take classes online and learn how to use a computer. The monthly meal service was changed to a weekly service at our own risk. Food was delivered to about 300 homes monthly before the pandemic but now it is delivered to about 2,000 homes.

• Gapsong Kim, Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action
The impacts of the pandemic on the Asian community can largely be classified into three. The first is economic difficulty from no job opportunities, the second is difficulty regarding health, and the third is fear of Asian hate crimes. As MinKwon Center for Community Action works for community service, we started a call service helping with unemployment benefits, which was discontinued 10 years ago. The state government’s unemployment benefit website only offered the service in English and many people found it difficult. So we began the unemployment benefit service. We got about 50,000 calls in a year. We offered this service together with the KCS who is here today. We found out that undocumented people couldn’t even apply for the benefit, so we supported cash. Luckily, we were able to distribute from 400 to 1,000 dollars to 200 undocumented households with USD 1 million from the subsidiary of the New York Immigration Center, USD 500,000 raised by MinKwon Center, and USD 500,000 from donations of Korean companies. We were worried that the amount fell short, but the immigration organization staged a protest and the City of New York granted unemployment benefits up to USD 15,000 per household. The rental assistance program helped to support about USD 6.5 million to the Korean society.

Regarding health issues, we started the vaccination booking service. Roughly calculated, we connected with about 100,000 Koreans during the pandemic. Regarding hate crimes, we visited 500 businesses in Flushing, NY, and distributed crime report flyers and posters. We helped five victims of an Asian hate crime.


• Jihye Lee, Director, Korean American Family Service Center
Since the pandemic, the 24-hour hotline call service has tripled and is still ongoing. This means the frequency of domestic violence has aggravated. There were too many cases we could at first and the most difficult thing was the victims live together with assailants considering the nature of domestic violence. But we pulled it together. The situation of existing domestic violence victims got worsened and in many cases, the eating of children was the main issue. So we started the food delivery service from then. We also applied for unemployment benefits on behalf of the people. Our focus was on domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual abuse but now we have competence in overall social services. The afterschool service of the center is not offered online. We were able to establish a system to collaborate with other Korean communities and help each other.


2. Did you find any issues in Korean society that you weren’t aware of before the pandemic?
• Ahyoung Kim, Director of Economic Empowerment, Asian American Federation
I think Asian hate crimes are more serious than ever. Koreans fall in the category of hate crimes in terms of physical and verbal violence, so we informed Korean society of the related stories. Even when the pandemic is over, hate crimes will continue. I hope we can build a society where all human beings can live without discrimination by creating a bond with other ethnic groups, not just Asian. I believe the programs for supporting small businesses must be updated. The actual small businesses could not get the benefits because the scope was expanded up to 500 people. It’s our challenge to overcome this challenge in the process of rebuilding the economy.

• Myoungmi Kim, President & CEO, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
We have been offering services around New York City, but we realized the suburban areas need our services, which include New Jersey and upstate New York. And I think the Mental Health Clinic should be expanded further. Last but not least, programs that focused on senior citizens should expand the scope to 2nd-generation Koreans.

• Eunkyung Kim, Executive Director, YWCA Queens
All of our programs were carried out online. I realized the taxation reporting of the Korean community is a serious issue. I hope people can pay taxes and receive subsidiary benefits from the government in emergencies. Although the relevant organizations continuously provide information, many Koreans are not familiar with it. We must put more efforts into spreading information.

• Gapsong Kim, Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action
I was surprised that so many people in the Korean community are not accustomed to using a computer and can’t speak English. One of four people in Flushing, NY where the population of Koreans is concentrated is below the poverty baseline. More than 25% people have no medical insurance And it has been found that excessive community development caused the rise in rent. Proper judgment on politicians forcing excessive community development is needed to stop the price rise. Accordingly, MinKwon Center will make it a new agenda for the antipoverty movement. The top 20% of large companies took 70% of the total amount of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We need political activities to correct these laws.

• Jihye Lee, Director, Korean American Family Service Center
The frequency of domestic violence was higher than we thought and it is continuously increasing. The number has increased even more after the pandemic. Domestic violence between adults has been expanding to children, and more children are exposed to sexual violence. This issue was most challenging for use. So we must reinforce the existing services rather than create something new.



3. You must have had a lot of mental stress as the representative of a nonprofit organization. How did you overcome it?
• Eunkyung Kim, Executive Director, YWCA Queens
We didn’t rest for a single day, and the mental health of our employees was more important than anything. We helped our staff with counseling and seminars to boost the mentality.

• Jihye Lee, Director, Korean American Family Service Center
I told my staff to stay home if their condition is not good. Many of the executives and employees avoided meeting with families because it could expose them to risk. Instead, we expanded welfare benefits for employees We offered the IRA from 2021 and we reformed the health insurance to cover 95%.

• Ahyoung Kim, Director of Economic Empowerment, Asian American Federation
I lost 15 kg during the pandemic. I felt guilty when I could not help the issues of people who come for advise.

• Myoungmi Kim, President & CEO, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
We have 220 employee, and it was difficult to deal with complaints about benefits the employees get just because we work at a service group. All employees put a strong sense of service and devotion into work. They need more support.

• Gapsong Kim, Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action
There was no stress for providing services but we carried out many workshops to support employees. I felt rewarded for what I could do.



4. You must have had many experiences as you go through the pandemic. What is the direction of your organization?
• Jihye Lee, Director, Korean American Family Service Center
We offered many services to other ethnic groups during the pandemic, but it’s time to look after Korean communities. There are many low-income victims in areas known as rich towns such as New Jersey and upstate New York. So we plan to expand our services.

• Eunkyung Kim, Executive Director, YWCA Queens
We are planning to expand our services to New Jersey with the opening of a new New Jersey office. We once again felt through the pandemic that the roles of politicians are important. We will actively carry out activities to encourage election and form a political organization

• Eunkyung Kim, Executive Director, YWCA Queens
We plan to promote the Korean culture in the community. We will hold cultural festival with other ethnic groups and run programs to help employment. We also have many programs for the youth in mind.

• Myoungmi Kim, President & CEO, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
We will further expand our immigration services by employing an attorney in charge of the immigration department. We also plan to conduct a campaign to grow the sense of ownership. Voting is the best way to exercise one's rights. So, we will start a movement to encourage people to vote.

• Ahyoung Kim, Director of Economic Empowerment, Asian American Federation 
We felt the importance of voting. We need to hold politicians in check and train ourselves. We are ready to do anything that can help overseas Koreans get together and unite.


Photo: Panelists at the meeting

Photo: Panelists at the meeting



Photo: Group photo of panelists

Photo: Group photo of panelists




Overseas Korean correspondent