Relief Fund for Undocumented Workers to Go Live in Autumn, Inslee Says

by Carolyn Bick

Though his office unveiled a $40 million fund for undocumented workers earlier this week, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference on Aug. 13 that the one-time payment fund won’t be available for undocumented workers until the autumn. He also said that the state has made available another $3 million in CARES Act funding for certain food production workers who have to quarantine themselves, due to infection from the novel coronavirus.

Inslee said the fund does not reflect the hefty sum of money in taxes undocumented workers bring to the state. According to the most recent data from New American Economy cited by the American Immigration Council in a recently published fact sheet, undocumented immigrants paid more than $360 million in state and local taxes and more than $670 million in federal taxes in 2018. He said that the state’s Department of Commerce is running the fund, and is currently searching for an “entity to man the program.”

The $3 million will go towards what the state is calling the Washington COVID-19 Food Production Paid Leave Program. This program is meant for “workers in the food production industry who are unable to obtain leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These workers are often ineligible for other forms of paid leave, even when exposed to COVID-19,” according to a statement sent out by the governor’s office after the Aug. 13 press conference.

Inslee detailed parameters for the program in a proclamation, which states that migrant, seasonal, and other food production workers “are uniquely vulnerable, as the nature of their employment relationships means that any accrual of paid leave under the state’s paid sick leave provisions is likely to be inaccessible or otherwise inadequate to cover a fourteen-day period of leave for isolation or recovery related to COVID-19.” The money is meant to help cover workers’ expenses, if they need to take time off to quarantine themselves and their families. 

But this pandemic is far from over, and one-time funds won’t be enough to get families through a crisis that has long-term health consequences, even for young people. Inslee was joined by Dr. Francis Riedo of Evergreen Health in Kirkland, which treated the first cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

While Riedo said he and other healthcare workers have learned a lot since those initial days, what they have learned is particularly troubling. Not only are patients — young patients — contracting and dying from the disease, but those who survive are continuing to come to the hospital for months, because the disease attacks not only the respiratory system, but other areas of the body, too. This creates long term complications that are not associated with other respiratory diseases, such as the flu.

“We are seeing patients coming into clinic … even three months after their infections, complaining of debilitating fatigue, persistent headaches, muscle aches, difficulty concentrating, and even changes in their senses of smell and taste,” Reido said.

Though several vaccine trials are underway across the United States, including in Washington State, both Inslee and Reido emphasized the need for Washingtonians to continue to wear masks — and wear them properly, covering both the nose and the mouth — wash their hands, and distance themselves from one another as much as possible.

“The message we have here — and this is [from] all the healthcare workers here at Evergreen, and around the state … we need your help to slow this down,” Reido said. “We want everyone to be proactive in their prevention efforts to minimize the spread and transmission. This is a public health message, but it’s really a personal message of accountability and responsibility. And we need the help of everyone involved.”

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here. 

Featured image from the Emerald archives.