Oregon Agricultural Workers to See Financial Relief

The Oregon Worker Relief Coalition announced on Monday, Aug. 3 that agricultural workers will be receiving financial relief for lost wages during the COVID-19 crisis.  

“When people working on farms or in food processing plants are exposed to COVID-19, they have few options to prevent the virus from spreading besides giving up their paycheck,” Ramon Valdez, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Relationships at Innovation Law Lab said to KGW reporter Morgan Romero. “The Quarantine Fund will help us contain this pandemic by taking the financial stress off of workers who keep Oregonians fed and agricultural businesses running.” 

More than one-third of Oregon’s agricultural industry workers are undocumented immigrants and would therefore not be eligible for federal unemployment relief, including the CARES Act and other recovery rebate payments. With this new fund, they will be eligible for up to two weeks of relief money provided through the Quarantine Fund and administered by the Oregon Worker Relief Coalition.  

Many immigrants and refugees work in jobs that are key to the state’s prosperity – filling vital positions as farm workers, food-processing workers, housekeepers, construction workers, landscapers, caregivers, and day laborers. Workers without legal status typically carry out their work for low pay and, faced with job losses, have few resources to meet their basic needs during this crisis. 

Relief amounts will range from $430 to $1,290. This news raises concerns about disparities that agricultural workers, specifically those who are undocumented, face in their industry, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As reported by KATU, Gov. Kate Brown stated with regards to the fund, “This pandemic has exacerbated disparities in our systems that already existed — especially for low-income communities, rural communities, immigrants, and communities of color. Oregonians working in agriculture and food processing are providing a vital service, ensuring families continue to have food on their tables and grocery store shelves during this pandemic. And yet, the nature of this work puts agricultural and food processing workers at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.”  

$430, at the low end of the potential funds given to workers, is a significant drop from the $600 in federal relief that unemployed citizens received from March through July, which undocumented individuals are not eligible for. Additionally, these workers will only be provided these funds for two weeks, compared to the 13 weeks that jobless citizens received from the federal relief fund (which may continue further, due to Trump’s new executive order). These facts call into question how undocumented immigrants, specifically those working in the agriculture industry, are valued in our current society.   

Because of their key role in Oregon’s agricultural sector and overall economy, the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) argued in April that undocumented immigrants should receive some form of COVID financial relief. Now, with this new fund available, is it enough to keep valuable workers afloat?  

According to the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, one in eight workers in Oregon is an immigrant, and one in 10 Oregon children live with a family member who is undocumented. Undocumented Oregonians pay approximately $81 million every year in state and local taxes, and in 2015 their businesses in Oregon generated over $470 million. 

How to apply for these funds 

To be eligible for these funds, you must be at least 18 years old, an agricultural or farm worker, have self-quarantined for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19 or been diagnosed with COVID-19, and be seeking COVID-19 treatment for yourself or a family member. 

Call 1-888-274-7292, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. for assistance in receiving these funds.  

By Cara Nixon