Assistance Programs for Underserved Communities

Happy mother talking to her small son while packing his books into a backpack.

Underserved communities tend to face disproportionate hardship during times of social, economic and personal need. With this in mind, some organizations make it their mission to help historically marginalized groups connect with resources that might not be otherwise available.

We've created a roundup of such organizations and resources based on their area of focus: personal finances, housing, small business and higher education. Many work with a specific community (or communities), although some focus on a particular issue, such as business lending.

Personal Finances and Housing

So many things can impact your wallet, and help with your finances and housing can come in many forms. Organizations may offer subsidized housing or utility payments, direct cash assistance, job training or financial education. Or they may provide access to legal experts who can help you understand and advocate for your rights as a consumer, renter or homeowner.

  • This is a great starting place if you're looking for state or federal assistance, including help with housing, utilities, health care, disaster relief and personal finances. Use the benefits finder tool to find out which programs you may be eligible for.
  • Local legal aid: Nonprofit legal clinics may be able to help you with finance- and housing-related legal questions.
  • Mission Asset Fund: Offers 0% interest credit-building loan programs, business loans and loans for people who need help paying U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application fees. There's also a free app with educational programs and tools available in multiple languages.
  • National Coalition for Asian Pacific Americans Community Development (CAPACD): The National CAPACD supports a variety of Asian American and Pacific Islander-focused community organizations. In turn, these organizations may offer services and programs to local community members. For example, the organization's Housing Counseling Network is made up of over a dozen agencies across the country that offer direct services to tenants and homeowners. You can search for a community organization in your state to see what resources it offers.
  • NID Housing Counseling Agency: NID Housing is approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to offer housing counseling and education services online and in-person. Counselors can offer advice on a wide range of housing-related issues, including renting, buying a home and foreclosure. NID is also the official and preferred housing counseling agency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
  • Rent relief: If you're having trouble making rent, or worry you will in the future, refer to our guide on what to do and where to find additional resources.

You can also find additional education and support from organizations that aren't focused on serving members of underserved groups. For example, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can connect you with a nonprofit credit counseling agency and counselor who can help you create a budget, prepare to buy a home, understand bankruptcy or manage your debt.

Small Business

Based on who owns your business, you may qualify for a certification, such as a minority business enterprise (MBE) or women business enterprise. The definition of a minority-owned business can vary, but it's often defined as a business that's at least 51% owned by a member of an underrepresented group, such as veterans, Indigenous peoples, women, LGBTQ+ and people of color.

These certifications could help your business secure contracts with companies or government organizations. Businesses can also benefit from a designation as it may lead to greater access to financing, training and networking—and appeal to customers.

Here are some grant and assistance programs for minority-owned businesses.

  • Accion's business loan programs: Accion is a nonprofit that can help you find funding, advisors and local partnerships. The organization has several minority- and industry-specific loan programs that may offer low loan rates and be easier to qualify for than loans from for-profit lenders.
  • Black Girl Ventures (BGV): BGV offers woman-identifying founders with multiple types of support. There are funding opportunities from Black Girl Ventures, as well as programs that offer mentorship, incubator and connections to become corporate suppliers.
  • Digitalundivided: Digitalundivided offers three programs for Black and Latinx women-led entrepreneurs and startups. There is a virtual training program for those who are starting out, an incubator program for startups and a leadership coaching program for entrepreneurs.
  • The website and database is home to thousands of grants offered by federal agencies. Although they're not all specifically for minority-owned businesses, you can filter the results and may qualify for a range of grants.
  • National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC): If your business is a certified MBE, the NMSDC could help match you with member organizations looking to purchase your products or services. The NMSDC Business Consortium Fund also has two loan programs for certified businesses that are at least three years old.
  • Start Small Think Big: If you're looking for guidance, Start Small Think Big specifically works with minority entrepreneurs who have a business with less than $1 million in revenue. The organization connects eligible business owners with volunteer professionals who can offer free legal, financial or marketing advice.
  • U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): This agency serves U.S. businesses that are owned and operated by African Americans, Asian Americans, Hasidic Jews, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. The MBDA might not offer you direct assistance, but it helps run and finance business and specialty centers around the country. Those centers are where you can find help securing financing and getting new contracts or partnerships.
  • Venture capital funds: If you're looking for venture backing, there are venture capital funds that focus on financing underrepresented founders. A few to start with are Backstage Capital, Harlem Capital and Fearless Fund.
  • Women's Business Centers: The SBA helps fund over 100 women's business centers across the country, which serve as resource centers for financing and coaching. In spite of the name, some of the centers focus on helping underrepresented business owners in general, not only women.

There are also many resources available to small business owners regardless of their identity, and state-specific and local programs that don't get a lot of national attention.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has guides to state-by-state resources for small businesses and small rural businesses. You can also turn to SCORE, a nonprofit Small Business Administration (SBA) partner that can connect you with a mentor who may be able to point you toward local programs.

Higher Education

Many scholarship and grant programs focus on specific underserved groups, while some are open to a broader range of students who belong to groups that have been historically underrepresented at colleges and universities. In addition to financial assistance, you may receive coaching or mentorship during school and while looking for an internship or job.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of opportunities available, including many at the school-specific level. Here are several to explore:

  • American Indian College Fund scholarships: The American Indian College Fund has a scholarship for American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduate and graduate students who are attending accredited tribal, public and private nonprofit colleges or universities. The site also links to additional scholarship opportunities.
  • Asian Pacific Fund: The Asian Pacific fund coordinates 10 scholarship programs for students with various ethnicities, career ambitions and backgrounds. Review the programs and their eligibility requirements, and know that you can apply for more than one as long as you meet the criteria.
  • Gates Millennium Scholars: The Gates Millennium Scholars Program awards scholarships to 300 minority students each year. The program focuses on helping students who are in the top 10% of their class and have demonstrated leadership abilities.
  • Immigrants Rising: Immigrants Rising has a pre-law fund for undocumented students who are planning to attend law school and want help paying for LSAT prep and law school application fees. Applicants must be undocumented and a California high school graduate or a graduate (or soon-to-be-graduate) of a California college or university to qualify.
  • NAACP scholarships: The NAACP offers several scholarship programs to undergraduate and graduate students. The eligibility, number of awards and award amount varies for each program, and you may need to be a current NAACP member to qualify.
  • National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering: NACME partners with schools and companies to offer scholarships to underrepresented undergraduates majoring in engineering and computer science.
  • This organization offers two scholarships for undocumented students. One is for high school and community college graduates, and the other is specifically for high school graduates who live in a state that doesn't offer them in-state tuition or admittance because of their citizenship status.
  • United Negro College Fund (UNCF): The UNCF is one of the largest private minority scholarship providers, awarding over $100 million to students each year. Check the website for a list of opportunities to see which are currently open.

Many schools also have programs for eligible first-generation and low-income students that provide academic, personal and career support, along with additional financial assistance. These can go by different names, such as Educational Opportunity Programs at the University of California, California State University and State University of New York schools, or the First Generation Organization at the University of Florida.

Experian's Free Resources

Experian also offers a variety of free tools and resources, including access to a free credit score and ongoing credit monitoring and score tracking. We've also put together a pandemic-specific list of resources and credit education hub you can explore to learn more about your finances and credit, and the weekly #CreditChat which brings together financial experts to discuss timely topics.