Oregon Worker Relief Fund Begins Distributing Cash to Immigrants Harmed by COVID-19

Gov. Kate Brown also announces a $30 million plan to deal with impact of the pandemic on agricultural workers.

Townsend Farms. (Wesley Lapointe)

A coalition of advocacy groups, including Causa Oregon, PCUN, the Latino Network, Innovation Law Lab, and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, announced today the distribution of $750,000 to workers financially harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic but not eligible for federal or state benefits because they are undocumented.

The money is being distributed by the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which expects to pay out $10.5 million by July.

"Thousands of immigrant families in Oregon are facing economic hardship as a result of COVID-19," says Ricardo Lujan-Valerio, advocacy director at the Latino Network. "State reports show that Latinx people in Oregon have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic."

(The latest figures released by the Oregon Health Authority show that 33 percent of the 4,131 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon have afflicted Latinxs, who make up 13.3 percent of the state's population.)

In April, the Oreegon Legislature appropriated $10 million for the fund; foundations have committed $1.5 million and the city of Portland $250,000.

The money will go to workers infected with the coronavirus and to families who demonstrate the greatest need through an application process.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy estimates 74,000 undocumented workers in Oregon pay $81 million in state and local taxes a year.

Although the immigration status of those affected is unclear, recent large COVID-19 outbreaks at Townsend Farms in Fairview and Firestone Pacific Foods in Clark County, Wash., have disproportionately affected Latinx workers and highlighted the crucial role that migrants play in harvesting the region's food supply.

But advocates say many of the families directly affected by the pandemic have no recourse to the social safety net.

"The need is heartbreaking," said Martha Sonato, political director at PCUN. "The Oregon Worker Relief Fund is critical to help immigrant Oregonians make ends meet during the pandemic. These individuals and families who have contributed to Oregon's collective prosperity cannot be forgotten."

After the fund announced its distribution, Gov. Kate Brown announced the state will spend $30 million on farmworkers, including $14 million for safety, sanitation and the mitigation of COVID-19 outbreaks, and $10 million for housing. 

"Oregon's agricultural workers are on the front lines during this COVID-19 crisis, working to provide food for Oregon families," Brown said in a statement. "This investment will bring essential resources to agricultural producers and farmworkers, providing critical resources to keep workers safe and mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks while protecting the food supply chain."

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