Undocumented communities will get COVID-19 relief funding

In hard-fought victory for undocumented immigrants, Washington becomes 2nd state to offer state-funded assistance amid pandemic


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SEATTLE (Aug. 10, 2020) — As Congress continues to exclude undocumented communities and mixed-status families from federal COVID-19 relief, Washington state is stepping up for immigrants and ensuring no one is forgotten. As a result of ongoing efforts from the undocumented community, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a $40 million Worker Relief Fund that will provide one-time cash assistance to undocumented people in Washington state. This step makes Washington a leader as the second state after California to provide public, state-funded relief to undocumented communities.

“We are proud to be part of the very broad coalition that made the case for this critical funding and we thank Governor Inslee for making this a priority,” said Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “This is an important step toward recognizing both the critical role undocumented immigrants play in our economy and the fact that they have been excluded from all previous pandemic relief programs.”

Gov. Jay Inslee with representatives of OneAmerica at the State Capitol.

As the coalition celebrates $40 million in relief for communities, the work is not done and greater funding will be needed. Although undocumented Washingtonians pay millions of dollars in taxes, they are unable to access unemployment and have been excluded from the federal stimulus payments. The fund is not enough to weather the deep impact of the pandemic thus far and the recession that is to come. The coalition will continue to ask the governor, the State Legislature, and private donors and funders to respond to the needs of the community, help fill the gap, and create a permanent statewide unemployment system for all.

“Since COVID began, we have heard the stories of thousands of our undocumented siblings, including an undocumented mother and restaurant worker in King County who lost her job as a result of this pandemic. Her most urgent need was to know the safest part of town to sleep houseless without fear of immigration entanglements with her 1-year-old, 4-year-old and 6-year-old daughters,”said Nedra Rivera and Linda Zietlow, who are Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) Hotline Coordinators, a trusted community line — 1-844-RAID-REP — where communities report immigration activity and seek referrals for relief.

In April, the WSLC and many of its affiliated unions joined OneAmerica and a broad coalition of more than 430 organizations that urged Inslee and legislative leaders to include undocumented immigrants in emergency COVID-19 relief funds. In addition, the Washington Dream Coalition stepped up and led a grassroots campaign that raised more than $6 million for undocumented workers in the state. Mutual aid has supported the community, but the need outstrips what mutual aid alone can accomplish.

“I have taken all the steps I can to try and pay my rent,” said Antonio, a Redmond resident of 20 years. “I have asked for, and received, help from social service organizations and churches.”

Antonio’s story isn’t unique. More than 229,000 undocumented immigrants call Washington home, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

Governor Inslee’s office will announce the Request For Proposal (RFP) seeking a foundation or nonprofit that will initially receive the funds. This entity will engage impacted community leaders to ensure that disaster relief funds reach those most in need of assistance.

Undocumented community members can sign up here to be updated on next steps for the fund. There will be a separate sign up process to apply for funding, and applications are not yet open.

Undocumented communities paid $316 million in taxes to Washington state in 2014 (the most recent data year) alone, according to a 2017 report by the Institute For Taxation and Economic Policy.

“We are trying to survive and it is frustrating, sad, and unfair that time and time again we are not supported by the government we pay taxes to every year,” said Corina, an immigrant leader in King County. “We contribute to a system that we are not benefiting from. We deserve support- we are also on the front lines of this pandemic just as citizens are.”

“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. “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.”

Her husband Marco Antonio, a tractor driver at Allans Bros, said, “Not having access to any help forced us to continue working and it resulted in both of us getting sick. 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.”

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