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Washington state throws undocumented workers $40M coronavirus lifeline

iStock.com/Kunal Mahto

Undocumented workers in Washington state who missed out on coronavirus-related federal assistance have access to financial help.

A new $40 million relief fund setup by Gov. Jay Inslee and a coalition of immigrant rights organizations will make the assistance available to undocumented workers who have lost income due to the pandemic but did not qualify for federal supplementary unemployment payments or one-time stimulus checks. Eligible workers can receive a one-time check.

“I was without work for 4 months accumulating debt and struggling to pay for my medication,” said Maria, who has worked as a housekeeper for 19 years in the Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington. “When I did go back to work, my boss chose profit over our health and allowed workers who were COVID19 positive to come back to work which exposed us all, and I contracted the virus.”

54-year-old Maria lives in Pasco, WA, with her husband Marco who operates a tractor for a living. The couple fell ill with COVID-19 are they are now several months behind on rent.

“Not having access to any help forced us to continue working and it resulted in both of us getting sick,” Marco said. “I’ve been fighting for my life for a month and this whole time I have been unemployed. A fund and access to a permanent unemployment benefit program like this will finally give families like ours the power to choose to stay home and prioritize our health without stressing about making ends meet.”

Like many migrant farm workers in Washington, they are bracing for winter when employment in the field will dry up. Maria earns $13.50 an hour cleaning hotels.

In Washington state, Latinos represent only 13 percent of the population, but they make up 43 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19.

The pandemic has hit the U.S. Latino population particularly hard, going from 4.8 percent in February to 18.5 percent in April before falling to 14.5 percent in June, according to the Pew Research Center.

State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, is urging legislators to monitor how agriculture workers in Eastern Washington are being treated during the pandemic.

“The least we can do is create this worker relief fund, but it’s not the last thing we should do,” Saldaña told Seattle-based Crosscut news site.

The immigrant rights organizations that helped make the $40 million fund happen include OneAmerica, the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network and the Washington Dream Coalition.

California led the way in helping undocumented workers affected by the pandemic with a $125 million fund in April.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us for a free consultation about your L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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