Throughout the pandemic, undocumented migrants have not been eligible for federal and state unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.
In Oregon, the absence of this support led to the establishment of the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which is part of a program that provides financial assistance to undocumented migrants in Oregon who have lost their wages due to the pandemic.
A coalition of 100 organizations such as Farmworker Housing Development Corporation, Washington County’s Centro Cultural, and Oregon Food Bank oversees the fund. It has received $ 76 million from the Oregon legislature and millions more from cities, counties and private organizations, including a recent contribution of $ 5.5 million from Portland using some of its funds. of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The bottom distributed over $ 58 million to more than 33,000 people since June 2020.
But an estimated 110,000 undocumented immigrants to Oregon, most of them from Mexico and Central America, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
âOur inboxes are always getting messages from people who need help,â CAUSA spokesperson Francisca Garfia said in an email to the Statesman Journal in June. âMany ask if we are going to provide a second payment, resources for jobs or additional help because they are still working too few hours. ”
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As the pandemic spreads, the relief fund will distribute second payments as many had hoped.
Last Tuesday, the first day to ask for a second payment, the Oregon Workers’ Relief Fund received 14,000 calls, said Martha Sonato, chair of the fund and political director of PCUN, the Oregon farm workers union. .
âThe rest of the population was able to receive several stimulus checks. Our undocumented community didn’t do it, âSonato said. âWe clearly heard loud and clear that a one-time payment was not enough and that they would really benefit from a second round of payments. ”
Help for workers, companies
To be eligible for the Oregon Workers’ Relief Fund, people must be undocumented, at least 18 years old, reside in Oregon, have lost their wages, and have experienced hardship due to the pandemic.
The average payout for the first round was around $ 1,700, Sonato said. It’s needs based, using MIT Living Wage Calculator to determine a month of spending based on the number of active children and adults in a family. The payments cover around 70% of the demonstrated needs of beneficiaries, she said.
The Oregon Worker Relief Program also administers a small business fund for business owners who were not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. The program also operates a fund, temporarily closed, for agricultural workers who must self-quarantine for two weeks after exposure to COVID-19.
The funds have brought relief to a population that the federal government and the states have largely ignored.
Some recipients have sent messages of gratitude to CAUSA, Garcia said. Messages like: “Doy gracias a Dios ya ustedes por el labor que hacen. Dios los bendiga … Amen. (I thank God and you for the work you do. God bless you … Amen)
COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact
In Oregon, Latinos account for 17.7% of COVID-19 cases, although it only represents 13.4% of the state’s population, a disparity attributed to being less likely to work from home and more likely to work in a high risk environment for COVID-19.
At national scale, Latinos also accounted for a higher share of job losses during the pandemic and saw their weekly earnings increase at a slower rate than all workers in the first year of the pandemic, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.
Eighteen months after the start of the pandemic, members of the coalitionhas also seen people experience pandemic economic impacts for much longer than the four weeks they originally assumed in the spring of 2020, Sonato said.
The most recent monthly snapshot of the fund shows that at the time of application, 86.4% of applicants had experienced more than five weeks of hardship.
Thirty-one percent of humanitarian aid recipients work in agriculture, 28% in catering and the rest in construction, housekeeping and maintenance, landscaping, childcare and other industries, according to the fund’s latest monthly snapshot.
Hoping to achieve more
The coalition is trying to reach more people to let them know about the funds and is investing in its communications strategy to connect with speakers of indigenous languages ââsuch as Mam and Mixtec.
The program created radio spots in indigenous languages ââand brought speakers of those languages ââto a recent community forum on the relief fund, Sonato said.
âWe still have a bit of work to do, but realizing that having Spanish isn’t enough has been a good step in the right direction,â said Sonato.
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The program will also ask the Oregon legislature to allocate an additional $ 65 million in the short February session, as the fund is expected to run out of money.by the end of the year, Sonato said.
To apply for the fund, call 1-888-274-7292.
Journalist Dianne Lugo contributed to this article.
Dora Totoian covers agricultural workers through Report for America, a program that aims to support local journalism and democracy by reporting on undercovered issues and communities.
You can reach her at [email protected].