Where People Turned 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. 

Explore the interactive data visualizations on 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 all polls.
  • Approximately half of respondents 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, more evident pandemic relief programs. The 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 not as large as the response in 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 members 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. Across all polling periods, at least one in four respondents said they expect 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 the highest of any month (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 for COVID-19 recovery in the next two years. Respondents consistently indicated that they had received the most help from the federal government, 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 roles during the COVID pandemic. Public health organizations coordinated state and local COVID-19 messaging and resource sharing for the jurisdictions 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 US residents expect all levels of government to be a prominent source of help they will turn to in the future. 

Approximately one in four respondents consistently said they expected to need help from family members or friends in the future. This shows that respondents are likely to seek help from their family or friends just as much, if not more, than from the government.   

While government agencies and family members are the most prominent sources of assistance US residents expect to rely on, other sources of assistance – like community-based organizations, employers, and neighbors – are also identified as places from which many people will seek help. 

Many respondents (14.4% in March 2021) said they expect to need help from community-based organizations (CBOs) in the coming years. CBOs often act as anchor institutions for their communities that provide a variety of types of assistance – including food distribution, help finding employment, and emotional health – especially during disasters. Learn more about the assistance community-based organizations provided during the COVID-19 pandemic by exploring our findings from interviews with leaders of CBOs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Hidalgo County, Texas.

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

COVID-19 and Equity Project

Read more about our work on equity during the pandemic: COVID-19: Equitable Response and Recovery