Merced Must Prioritize Stimulus Pay For Our Undocumented Farmworkers
By SHENG XIONG
On Dec. 6, the Merced City Council voted to allocate $1 million dollars for a one-time stimulus pay to low income essential workers from the $27.4 million dollars it received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for COVID-19 recovery and relief.
City staff is expected to propose a plan for distribution of these funds to the City Council at their 6 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, community leaders and farmworkers presented a petition and letter alongside Leadership Counsel urging the City Council to make these funds accessible to some of the most vulnerable essential workers, specifically undocumented workers, who were ineligible for the federal stimulus payments, many of whom are farmworkers within our community.
Farmworkers have kept our nation’s food supply going, and consequently, have been one of the most disproportionately impacted groups by COVID-19. Merced City Council must now prioritize this limited amount for farmworkers and other undocumented, minimum-wage workers in various essential work. They must also increase any funding for administrative costs to avoid deducting from the $1 million dollars, as that can significantly reduce the already inadequate amount available to essential workers.
While some of us were able to shelter-in-place and work remotely, farmworkers were not even given the privilege of staying home from work when sick or exposed to COVID-19; any missed work was simply unpaid. What is worse is that farmworkers did not receive any premium or hazard pay during the pandemic, even though they are deemed essential and sacrificed their health and safety to keep our communities fed.
To ensure that farmworkers and undocumented workers are able to access these funds, the program must eliminate barriers and request only the minimum documents needed to show proof of work. Requiring excessive documents, in the name of reporting and non-duplication, has prevented marginalized communities, particularly those undocumented and in need, from receiving any COVID-19 relief and recovery funding directly.
Too often, undocumented workers have been turned away when applying for relief funds, including rental and utility assistance. Premium pay for essential workers is a clear, eligible use of ARPA funds according to federal guidelines on how the money should be spent. Merced City Council must make these funds easily accessible to essential workers, especially undocumented farmworkers. They are the backbone to our community and must not be taken for granted longer.
Farmworkers in Merced deserve the City’s support. We will be at Merced City Hall Tuesday night alongside Merced residents to demand that undocumented workers and farmworkers be prioritized for distribution of these funds. Join us at 6 p.m. at 678 W 18th Street on the second floor.