(The Center Square) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rolled out the Immigrant Relief Fund this week, which will provide struggling undocumented immigrants who cannot access federal aid with $40 million in relief.
Inslee also announced the Food Production Paid Leave Program, which will pay out another $3 million to ill food production workers who are self-isolating.
“We have to ensure that no one in our state is left behind as we fight this pandemic,” Inslee said. “COVID-19 doesn’t care what your immigration status is. We must support every family affected by the virus, especially those who lack the necessary means to quarantine or isolate and prevent further spread. This is the right thing for the well-being of individuals, the health of their colleagues and the safety of our communities.”
The governor’s office said the fund is the result of discussions between Inslee and 430 immigrant rights groups and labor advocacy leaders.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services is seeking a nonprofit to help manage the Immigrant Relief Fund. In partnership with community groups, the governor’s office said, the fund will award as much as $1,000 per eligible worker by fall.
“Immigrant community members are facing some of the worst outcomes of this pandemic and have been systematically excluded from a social safety net for too long,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz. “A coalition of immigrant organizations came together to develop this fund that recognizes the dignity of our undocumented community members and works to get some relief to their families during this difficult time.”
The American Council on Immigration reported that more than 170,000 people in Washington live with at least one undocumented family member.
Washington is further home to more than 16,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Roughly one in five Washington workers is an immigrant, many of whom work in the state’s $7.9 billion agricultural industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly deadly for Hispanic communities in Washington.
Hispanic Washington residents represent roughly 43 percent of the state’s 64,000 COVID-19 cases, despite making up 13 percent of the state’s population, according to data from the Washington Department of Health.
The DOH reported that 34 percent of cases involve individuals of an unknown race or ethnicity.
Inslee also ordered over $1 million worth of hand sanitizer and 700,000 cloth face coverings for farm workers, according to the governor’s office.
Washington is one of eight states including Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to require farm operators to provide personal protective equipment to farmworkers and require physical distancing enforcement.
Washington farms have become COVID-19 hotspots, with rural Yakima County still seeing a 28.3 percent positive test rate as of Monday weeks after Inslee spoke there addressing the region's high COVID-19 case loads.
Neighboring Benton and Franklin Counties are seeing 18.4 and 28.3 percent positive test rates as of Monday, respectively.
As of Monday, the DOH reported 64,151 cases of COVID-19 in the state with the death toll standing at 1,716 deaths. The statewide average positive test rate is 6.7 percent.