Where Respondents Turned to for Help and Where they Expect to Need Help in the Future

We polled the nation in October 2020, December 2020, and March 2021 to illuminate how US communities have experienced COVID-19. We wanted to understand: 

  • What have been the biggest challenges during the pandemic?
  • What has caused people to seek help, and who still needs help? 
  • What will be the biggest challenges in the future?
  • Who are people turning to for help? 
  • What stopped people from getting help?

Read this page to learn where US residents turned for help during the pandemic, or explore more poll results:
Biggest Challenges | Challenges that Caused People to Seek Help | Future Challenges | Barriers to Help | Where People Received Help


Where people have gotten help so far

Given the plethora of challenges caused by or exacerbated by, the pandemic, we wanted to understand where people turned for and received help. That’s why we asked how much help individuals got from sources such as the federal government, local government, community organizations, friends and family among others.

How much help, if any, have you and your household received from the following sources during COVID or coronavirus? Please select one option on each row.

Key Findings

  • About one in two respondents said they received help from the federal government across October (46.2%), December (55.7%), and March (52.7%).
  • Approximately half of respondents surveyed said they received some amount of help from family or friends during the pandemic across the months polled (47.2%, 52.4%, and 49.5%, for October and December 2020, and March 2021). 
  • From December 2020 to March 2021, neighbors (+1.6%), a school or university (+2.3%), and community organizations (+0.7%) were the only sources of help for which the proportion of respondents increased.
  • By March, respondents were less likely to say they received help from a school or university (19.1% total) or an employer (20.6% total). 

Respondents received help from a variety of sources during the pandemic. In October 2020, the source that the greatest proportion of people said they received help from was family or friends (47.2%). During this period, strict social distancing recommendations were more widely in effect and may have been a factor in driving where people turned to for help. However, by December 2020 and March 2021, the source that respondents turned to for support the most shifted to the federal government. This may reflect the issuing of stimulus checks (the second round of which was approved December 20, 2020, shortly before the December 2020 survey took place) and other pandemic relief programs, which were more evident during this period. The economic impact of these programs directly affected household and health-related provisions, decreasing the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of government assistance and reaching out to family members, neighbors and community organizations also served as a frequently utilized source for support during the pandemic. Neighbors and community organizations were likely available to provide direct information or resources to those facing challenges during the pandemic. Those groups served as information hubs and were easily accessible when needed.


Sources people think they will need help from

In addition to understanding the places where people turned to for help during the pandemic, we wanted to know where people expected to turn for help during recovery from COVID-19. We asked the nation to think about the next two years, and share – which sources do you think you will need help from.

Thinking about the next two years, which source(s), if any, do you believe you and your household will need help from? Please select all that apply.

Key Findings

  • In October, 48% of people said they did not think they would need help from any of the sources we listed. In December, that fell to 39.4% (-8.6%). In March 2021, 43.5% of respondents said they did not believe they would need help from one of the sources – an increase from December 2020, but still more than October 2020. 
    • In other words, as of March 2021, more than half (56.5%) of respondents expected to need help from at least one source in the next two years.  
  • For all sources of help, excluding neighbors, the number of people who said they would need assistance from that source peaked in December. 
  • Also for all sources of help, excluding family member or friends, the amount of people who said they would anticipate needing help from that source was greater in March 2021 than in October 2020
  • Overall, the greatest number of people expect to need help from the federal government in the next two years compared to other sources, with at least one in four respondents saying, across October and December in 2020, and in March 2021, expecting to need help from the Federal government in the next two years
    • In December, the number of people who said they expect to need help from the Federal government was particularly high (34.4%).
  • A large proportion of respondents (about one in four) also expect to need help from family members or friends in the next two years.

This question revealed that more than half of US residents surveyed anticipate that they will still require some form of assistance related to their recovery from COVID-19 in the next two years. Each time we polled the nation, respondents consistently indicated that they had received the most help overall from the federal government and state, local government agencies, and family members or friends. Those answers seem to predict which sources respondents expect to need help in the future.

Although the distinction between federal and state government is important, both entities have played major, but different, roles during the COVID pandemic. Public health organizations coordinated state and local COVID public messaging and resource sharing for the territories they supported. The federal government acted on legislative actions to respond to the pandemic through stimulus packages, funding COVID-19 research, testing, treatment, and vaccine development, as well as increasing access to certain healthcare provisions. By March 2021, even though there was decrease from December 2020 in respondents who said they expected to need help from those entities, it is apparent that the respondents expect all levels of government to be a relevant source that respondents expect to turn to in the future. 

In our survey, approximately one in four respondents consistently said they expected to need help from family members or friends in the future. This domain is the only selection that remained around the same level through October and December 2020, and March 2021. This shows that respondents are likely to seek help from their family or friends just as much, if not more, than from the government.  On the other hand, they are still likely to need help from an employer, neighbors, or a school/university – but many do still expect to seek assistance from these sources.


Polling was completed with support of the Walmart Foundation for our project, Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color.