by Elizabeth Turnbull
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the State of Washington opened applications for a new $40 million fund which provides COVID-19 financial relief to workers whose immigration status has made them previously ineligible for federal stimulus or unemployment benefits.
Aid relief amounts vary from $1,000 for individuals to up to $3,000 per households, and applicants to the fund, which closes on Dec. 6, must be at least 18 years old, significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ineligible for federal stimulus funding or unemployment benefits due to their immigration status.
Ultimately, the fund, which consists of federal funds allocated by the state, was created after a coalition of over 400 immigrant rights and social services organizations across the state pushed for more relief for undocumented immigrants and for immigrants who have been inelligible for other types of aid.
While many Washington residents have been able to financially survive the pandemic by relying on unemployment aid and stimulus checks, undocumented immigrants have been faced with the choice of either losing their source of income or putting their lives on the line, according to Paul Quinonez, an organizer at The Washington Dream Coalition, a non-profit which has been involved with structuring the fund.
“It wasn’t fair for [undocumented workers] to be left to either risk their lives or be left on their own without a resource,” Quinonez said. “It’s not a handout — it’s tax funds that they funded with their own tax money and it’s only fair that they get it.”
The fund itself is run by immigrant organizations, so applicants do not have to be concerned about their safety as their information will not be shared with the government. Individuals who are eligible for the fund will receive either a check or a gift card preloaded with the aid funds, and the application is available in multiple languages, according to the fund’s website.
Other state resources are also currently available, such as the Washington Food Production Paid Leave Program which will remain in place through Nov. 18 and which provides leave for workers in the food production industry who are not eligible to obtain paid leave through the
Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
In terms of providing aid to undocumented workers, Quinonez said that the new COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund is a step in the right direction but that efforts are being made to work with state legislaters on creating more permanent funds for undocumented workers after the fund closes in December.
“We’re really hoping that when people learn the history of how this fund came about that they see it as a way to empower themselves and become activated to fight for something more permanent,” Quinonez said. “Because we won’t be able to do it alone and we know that these $40 million won’t be enough.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.
March for Immigrant Rights attributed to Molly Adams under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.