Oregon Worker Relief Fund impacts Oregonians

Wordcloud image credit: Innovation Law Lab

In April we identified resources to support employees and community members as we began to recognize the impact the novel coronavirus was having on fellow Oregonians. While we have all been impacted and our lives disrupted in varying degrees during this pandemic, some community members have been more affected than others, facing food shortage, homelessness and increased economic hardship.

Now, many months later, while we still struggle with outbreaks, new deaths and cases, and implementing protective measures, we are comforted to learn about successes achieved by the Oregon Worker Relief Fund. The Oregon Worker Relief Fund is comprised of over 100 Oregon partners united to help immigrant Oregonians make ends meet during this COVID-19 crisis. The Fund provides financial support directly to Oregonians who have lost their jobs yet are ineligible for Unemployment Insurance and federal stimulus relief due to immigration status.

I was fortunate to trade notes with Ramon Valdez, Director of Strategic and Relationships at Innovation Law Lab. I thank him for the work he and others have done and for taking the time to share these insights with us.

What was the most surprising thing to you during your involvement in this collaboration?

“It has been shocking, and absolutely heartbreaking, to see how much the systemic and long-standing marginalization of immigrants and refugees, particularly people of color, has so quickly and harshly pushed them into extreme housing and food insecurity. While COVID-19 has been hard on all of us — immigrant communities are disproportionately exposed to COVID-19 due to their significant role in essential industries like agriculture, food processing, the restaurant industry, etc. So many families truly have nowhere to go for help. It is not just morally wrong… forcing families into the margins by establishing second class citizenships on the basis of immigration status is not just morally wrong…. it damages us all. It directly harms Oregon’s collective safety, health, and even economic well-being. 

I am also deeply impressed with community-based organizations in every corner of Oregon. This entire program was only possible because of their hard work and selfless dedication to our community. I’m very proud of our communities in Oregon as well as many of our elected officials who have been trailblazers in this national movement.” (Ramon Valdez)

What has been the biggest take away to you either about the pandemic and its impact on people, or its impact on how people come together?

“This difficult situation proves that our health and overall well being is intrinsically linked to that of our neighbors. This shows us that excluding community members on the basis of immigration status — which is not a criminal infraction but for decades has been criminalized and politicized — benefits no one. It actually harms us all collectively. 

This has also been an excellent example of how successful community-driven programs can be. Unlike other states, the State of Oregon allowed our statewide coalition to design, run, and develop this effort which is why it was such a huge success. In more traditional situations, the community-based organizations would advocate for the funding then the local/state governments would allocate and administer the funds. OWRF was not just an investment in our community — it was an act of trust in our ability to lead. And the result has been phenomenal.” (Ramon Valdez)

Mr. Valdez was also kind enough to share quotes from leaders of the Movement and in Oregon.

Our communities are hurting and there is a long journey ahead of us, but our people are resilient and our will to determine our own futures is stronger than the hardships we are currently experiencing.”
— Ricardo Lujan, advocacy director of Latino Network

“The public health crisis precipitated by COVID-19 has further exposed longstanding, deep inequities in our economy and society. Although our previous legislative efforts have provided much needed relief for many Americans during this crisis, millions of immigrants and their families remain left out. This not only harms and endangers those families, it weakens our national response and threatens local recovery by undermining efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and maintain the health and economic security of the entire community.”
— Oregon U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader

“Advocates have done an incredible job putting this essential program together,” said “I will continue to do all I can to support workers that are falling through the cracks and ensure no Oregonian gets left behind in this recovery.”
— Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek

OWRF has delivered over $22 million in disaster relief throughout Oregon’s immigrant communities but it is not too late to donate. I don’t know about you but part of my paycheck this week will go to OWRF. Visit OWRF’s call to action for community members to continue donating to the fund. My favorite word of 2020 is collaboration, and this is an exquisite example of good work that creates results when people come together.

Image credit: Oregon Worker Relief Fund.