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Inslee urged to create relief fund for undocumented workers

OLYMPIA (April 27, 2020) — Many working families in Washington state are suffering economic hardship due to the necessary restrictions in place to keep the coronavirus from overwhelming our health care system. But the more than 250,000 undocumented immigrants in this state have no access to unemployment insurance, federal CARES Act payments, or other forms of temporary assistance that all other workers have.

That’s why the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and many of its affiliated unions have joined OneAmerica and a broad coalition of more than 430 organizations that signed a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative leaders last week urging them to include undocumented immigrants in emergency COVID-19 relief funds.

TAKE A STAND — You can add your name to this call to make sure we are all safe. Please click here to send your legislators a message urging them to support the creation of a Washington Worker Relief Fund that provides economic assistance to undocumented Washingtonians and a permanent system that gives undocumented immigrants access to unemployment insurance.

Here is the letter sent last week:

Dear Governor Inslee, Majority Leader Billig, and Speaker Jinkins:

We are writing to ask you to take urgently needed action to ensure the health and stability of Washington’s immigrant community. While the coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all, undocumented immigrants are uniquely at risk. Undocumented immigrants and their families are completely excluded from the $2 trillion relief package Congress passed last month, despite broad consensus that providing economic stability to all workers is essential to ending this public health crisis.

More than 250,000 undocumented immigrants call Washington home. They are part of our families and community, make substantial contributions to our state, and deserve fair treatment and respect as human beings regardless of their immigration or employment status. It must also be recognized that those who are employed and participate in Washington’s economy pay more than $316 million each year in state and local taxes.

They are overrepresented in industries that have been decimated by the pandemic, including restaurants, hospitality, landscaping and construction. Often living paycheck to paycheck, undocumented workers suddenly face the prospect of serious illness and complete loss of income, with no safety net.

Ineligible for unemployment insurance, disproportionately likely to lack access to paid sick leave or health insurance, and unfairly left out of federal stimulus measures, these community members are being forced to bear the brunt of a pandemic alone.

We call on you to take immediate action to address the needs of these state residents in the next two weeks by:

1.  Creating a “Washington Worker Relief Fund” through the Governor’s office with at least $100 million initially allocated to it. The fund will be administered by community based organizations to provide emergency economic assistance to undocumented Washingtonians, so that everyone has access to the relief they need during the pandemic; and,

2.  Working with caucus leadership to create a permanent system that will provide wage replacement protection to workers who lose their jobs and are excluded from the current unemployment insurance system, including undocumented immigrants. Failing to provide a safety net for these workers and their families undermines public health and will hamper the Washington economy’s ability to recover from the pandemic. Without state government intervention, hundreds of thousands of Washington residents are at risk of being exposed to coronavirus and becoming destitute. 

That risk is already reality for many immigrant community members. Rosí and her husband live in Vancouver and lost their jobs in early March. They worked at a restaurant and for a small business, both of which suddenly closed due to the coronavirus.

With no support from the federal government, Rosí has been put in an impossible situation. She must look for a new job in order to pay rent, even though she is afraid that she will put herself or her family at risk of catching the coronavirus. She cannot access any of the income replacement programs that others can to keep her family healthy and safe during this pandemic. Rosí’s story is an alarmingly common one in the immigrant community. If an emergency fund or state wage replacement system existed, Rosí would be able to support her family, protect public health, and contribute to her community’s economic recovery.

We appreciate the steps you have taken so far to keep Washingtonians safe and to support individuals and small businesses during this crisis. We ask that you continue to lead by ensuring that no Washington family is left behind.

Establishing this program for systemic undocumented worker relief during the crisis will save lives and help all our communities recover economically. With over 400 organizations signed on in support, we urge you to take these immediate steps to provide emergency relief to undocumented community members and their families.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

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