Editorial | It’s time for an excluded workers fund
People excluded from federal COVID-19 funding need help, and our local governments can afford it.
Johnson County governments have the opportunity to set an example for the country by taking bold action with funding their US bailout and creating a fund for excluded workers.
The pandemic, which is still raging 18 months after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Iowa, has put a strain on us all. But the damage has been particularly severe among those already disadvantaged in society – undocumented immigrants, those formerly incarcerated and other cash-only workers who are not considered part of the formal economy.
These workers – the backbone of much of our food service, supply chains and other sectors – have fallen through the cracks of federal COVID-19 relief disbursements.
Undocumented immigrants without a Social Security number have been excluded from virtually all federal COVID-19 relief. Although they work, pay taxes, and live in our communities, they received none of the stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance that most working Americans depended on.
Johnson County will receive $ 29.36 million from the US bailout, the first half of which has already been received. Iowa City will receive $ 18.33 million, and the rest of Johnson County governments will receive around $ 8 million, according to the state’s coronavirus website.
The guidelines for funds give local governments wide latitude to spend the money as they see fit.
And Johnson County certainly has money for everyone – the funding represents almost a quarter of the county’s total planned spending for fiscal 2022, and it has been called a “historic” amount by county officials this year. this month.
County and city leaders are already deciding where to spend this money, and creating this fund should be high on the list for local leaders.
While the money can be spent on infrastructure or to make up for lost income, the best way to help the county’s most vulnerable residents is to put money in their pockets. Poverty fell nearly two percentage points nationwide last year as a direct result of government assistance, and it’s time to include those who have been left out of the equation.
Excluded, but essential
Many of Iowa’s most essential jobs are occupied by undocumented workers. In fact, the undocumented immigrant population made up 31 percent of the immigrant population and almost 2 percent of the state’s total population.
As a heavily agricultural state, Iowa relies on seasonal and migrant farm workers to feed the nation. While estimates of the number of undocumented farm workers vary, the National Immigration Forum estimates they represent around 70 percent nationally.
Immigrants, some undocumented, also make up a large portion of workers at meat packing plants that became hotbeds of COVID-19 infection in 2020. This happened in Waterloo, Iowa, where the virus swept through Tyson’s workplace because managers downplayed the importance of the virus and failed to implement COVID-19 precautions.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds cited the importance of these factories to the nation’s food supply when she forced them to stay open as hundreds of workers fell ill. When they fell ill and factories eventually closed, those without papers were left behind, unable to seek government help.
To protect these members of our community, we must make available to them the generous federal assistance that most others have received.
Awareness for distribution
Once the fund is in place, local officials need to develop strong advocacy strategies and facilitate applications, to ensure that the money gets into the pockets of those who need it most.
New York, which opened a $ 2.1 billion excluded workers fund in August, has already made mistakes that the county and city can learn from.
New York’s system requires undocumented people applying for the fund to provide multiple proofs of identity, a letter from their employer attesting to their loss of income during the pandemic, and several other cumbersome documents.
While it’s important to make sure the money is in good hands, requiring government documents to access a fund for people who largely do not have those documents will further exclude already excluded workers. And the power imbalance between an undocumented worker and his employer would likely make them reluctant to request a signed letter.
Local governments must also ensure that news of the fund reaches the right people, and they are encouraged to apply.
Many undocumented people speak little or no English and may not have access to the information channels that the county and city would use to publicize the fund. And many are rightly hesitant to embark on a government program for fear of negative consequences.
Civil servants should work with local nonprofits, like the Catholic Worker House, to identify those most in need and provide them with resources.
We are at a crossroads as a community. Although these workers have been forgotten and left behind until now, we have the opportunity and the means to help them – what remains to be seen is whether our leaders have the political will to make this a reality.
Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI editorial board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc. or the University of Iowa.
Members of the Editorial Board are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Shahab Khan and Sophie Stover.