Oregon Legislature and City of Portland Approve $21.75 Million in Additional Funding for the Oregon Worker Relief Fund

An estimated $124 million needed to provide relief to tens of thousands of Oregonians left out of federal stimulus, safety-net programs on the basis of immigration status 

PORTLAND-Ore.— The Oregon Worker Relief Fund (OWRF)–a program that provides financial relief to Oregonians who have lost wages due to the pandemic but are denied Unemployment Insurance and federal stimulus relief due to their immigration status–has received an additional $20 million allocation from the Oregon Legislature and $1.75 million from the City of Portland. 

On Nov. 5, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to commit $1.75 million dollars from the City’s General Fund. Earlier in the year, the City of Portland contributed $250,000 from the Office of Community & Civic Life’s spring budget monitoring process request. The November allocation brings the City of Portland’s total contribution to $2 Million for  the Oregon Worker Relief Fund (OWRF). The efforts at the City of Portland were led by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, and the Office of Community and Civic Life, with advocacy from the New Portlanders Policy Commission and Undocumented Portlanders Taskforce convened by Prosper Portland.

On Nov. 9, with bipartisan support, the Emergency Board of the Oregon Legislature approved the additional $20 million for the fund, benefiting all members of Oregon’s diverse community. 

According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, one in every 10 Oregon children live with a family member who is undocumented

Latinx people in Oregon have been hit hard by the pandemic, disproportionately testing positive for COVID-19. The Latinx community makes up more than 34 percent of the COVID-19 cases despite representing about 13 percent of Oregon’s total population.

To date, the fund has disbursed more than $23 million to over 13,000 Oregonian households, but the total need in Oregon is an estimated $124 million, far greater than the amount currently available. In fact, the funds were exhausted in September until these recent contributions. Without additional, sustained support from local and state governments, philanthropic organizations and individual donors, Oregon’s immigrant community will continue facing disproportionately extreme hardship. 

Despite the remaining unmet need, Oregon leads the nation in per capita contributions to programs like OWRF which aim to combat growing food and housing insecurity in communities of color under the COVID-19 pandemic as the result of the intentional exclusion of immigrants from financial assistance and safety-net programs on the basis of immigration status. The new contributions come just as the state is experiencing record levels of COVID-19 infections and the Governor has proposed closing restaurants and other businesses. 

“I am so pleased that my colleagues supported my amendment to further invest in the Oregon Worker Relief Fund,” said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “Immigrant-serving organizations across the country are reporting an increase in unmet basic needs, including food, housing, and cash assistance—this action will ensure that the nearly 22,000 Portlanders ineligible for unemployment insurance have access to vital support during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The Oregon Worker Relief Fund provides up to $1,720 to Oregonians who have lost wages due to the pandemic but are denied Unemployment Insurance or CARES Act stimulus checks due to their immigration status. The City’s additional $1.75 million-dollar contribution will be administered by the Office of Community & Civic Life. 

“We know that undocumented Oregonians pay about $81 million annually in state and local taxes and work tirelessly to keep our community healthy and safe,” says Civic Life Director Suk Rhee. “It is important that we support all communities with safety nets, especially during our national health crises.”

Void of federal support forged the Oregon Workers Relief Fund to fill critical gap

Many immigrants and refugees work in jobs key to the state’s prosperity including farmworkers, food-processing workers, housekeepers, construction workers, landscapers, caregivers, and day laborers. They are hardworking Oregonians, but due to the pandemic, many are facing job losses, and struggling to make ends meet.

In late March 2020, Congress enacted a federal relief package that extends unemployment insurance to self-employed individuals and other categories of workers normally not covered by unemployment insurance. But, despite outcry from immigrant rights advocates, immigrant workers without legal status were intentionally excluded from accessing relief. These immigrant families were also completely cut out of the cash assistance the federal government sent to families.

Without access to financial assistance, the health impacts of COVID-19 on immigrant communities have been compounded by housing and food insecurity.

The Oregon Worker Relief Fund (OWRF) was created by more than 100 community organizations throughout Oregon to provide temporary financial support to immigrant Oregonian workers and families during the COVID-19 crisis.

A seed grant from MRG Foundation lead to an allocation of $10 million from the Oregon Legislature on April 23, community-based organizations throughout Oregon are able to provide financial aid for Oregonians who are disqualified from receiving Unemployment Insurance due to their immigration status, and now face hunger, homelessness, and economic hardship. This relief will help them take care of their families during these extremely difficult times.

“By investing in Oregon workers left out of the federal stimulus, we can prevent tens of thousands of families from going into economic ruin and protect the health and well-being of all Oregonians,” said Executive Director of Causa Oregon Adriana Miranda.

How do you apply?

Oregonians who are in need of financial assistance due to the impacts of COVID-19 but ineligible for Unemployment Insurance and safety-net programs due to immigration status can apply for aid from the Oregon Worker Relief Fund by calling 1-888-274-9292. Please visit workerrelief.org / aliviolaboral.org for additional information about the program’s eligibility requirements and application process.

OWRF developed an innovative, rapid response infrastructure that leverages custom-made software to reach community members across the entire state, adhere to all public health recommendations, and deliver aid rapidly.

Applications are submitted using a uniform, integrated and secure online platform through which over 22 community-based nonprofit organizations across the State of Oregon are able to interview applicants within the communities they serve. Every application is reviewed centrally and if approved, funds are disbursed using mobile payments and checks. 

“It has been difficult. We’ve had to choose between paying for rent or paying for food.” says Ofelia, a single mother of two children and member of the Hillsboro community, “I felt so much relief when I found out I was approved for this program. This helped us pay for food and get caught up on bills that we were struggling with.” 

The Oregon Worker Relief Fund is supported by individual donors and philanthropic organizations as well as state and local funding. With an estimated need of $124 million, the need far exceeds currently available resources. To make a donation and help a family impacted by COVID and forced to scramble in the margins by existing Unemployment Insurance and safety-net programs, go to workerrelief.org/donate.

Advocates across the state applauded the Oregon Legislature for supporting the Oregon Worker Relief Fund:

Adriana Miranda, Executive Director of Causa Oregon, said, “These additional funds will provide a lifeline for many immigrant Oregonians whose families have been ravaged by COVID. The Oregon Worker Relief Fund is a proven program to assist those who are the backbone of our communities and economies and I applaud our Oregon State Legislature and the City of Portland for recognizing that.”

“The need is heartbreaking,” said Martha Sonato, political director at PCUN. “The Oregon Worker Relief Fund is critical to help immigrant Oregonians make ends meet during the pandemic. These individuals and families who have contributed to Oregon’s collective prosperity cannot be forgotten.”

“We applaud state and local government leaders in Oregon for this important investment in our collective well-being.” says Ramon Valdez, director of Strategic Initiatives of Innovation Law Lab. “After decades of intentional exclusion from necessary services like Unemployment Insurance and safety-net programs on the basis of immigration status, thousands of Oregonians are now facing disproportionate hardship under the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this effort, our community is standing up to demand health, safety, and inclusion for all Oregon families.”