OP/ED: Merced Must Invest COVID Recovery Funds in Premium Pay for Farmworkers
By SHENG XIONG
The City of Merced received $27.4 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for COVID-19 recovery and relief and is proposing a spending plan for the City Council to vote on this Monday, December 6, at 6 p.m.
These funds are intended to help communities most impacted by the pandemic recover and bring relief to those who are often the most difficult to reach.
Farmworkers are one of the most disproportionately impacted groups by the COVID-19 crisis. They kept the nation’s food supply going while many of us were able to shelter-in-place and work remotely, yet the City’s proposed spending plan does not provide much-needed assistance to farmworkers.
Farmworkers, while deemed essential workers, have not received premium or hazard pay during the pandemic even though they sacrificed their health and safety to keep our communities fed and have not been afforded the privilege of staying home from work.
Instead of prioritizing premium pay for some of the most disproportionately impacted, minimum-wage, essential workers, the City first opted to use these ARPA COVID recovery funds to pay its employees a total of $345,000 in premium payments, yet City employees were afforded COVID safety work accommodations during lockdown that farmworkers were not.
City Council approved these payments prior to conducting public hearings or closing their public survey seeking feedback on how residents believe the funds should be used. On top of that, the City allocated about $3 million in ARPA funds to reimburse themselves for revenue loss and to pay for COVID expenses for police.
Premium pay is an eligible use of ARPA funds according to federal guidelines on how the money should be spent. In fact, premium and hazard pay for essential workers received overwhelming public support as one of top priorities on the survey that the City conducted.
ARPA affords the City the opportunity to invest in the community in a way they have not done before, amidst a continuing pandemic that is still impacting residents. We need the City Council to demonstrate leadership and invest in the essential workers who were taken for granted pre-pandemic. They are the backbone to our community. Rather than return to business as usual, we must move forward in this pandemic having learned that we need to take care of each other.
Farmworkers in Merced deserve the City’s support. We will be at Merced City Hall Monday night alongside Merced residents to demand as much.
Join us at 6 p.m. at 678 W 18th Street on the second floor.
Sheng Xiong is a policy advocate for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability