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Riverside County Offering Farmworkers Assistance During Pandemic

County of Riverside

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Tuesday to support quarantine housing and financial relief for farmworkers who test positive or are exposed to COVID-19. KVCR’s Megan Jamerson spoke with the organization partnering with the county about the fund’s significance and how it is only the beginning of the support these workers need.

Luz Gallegos of TODEC legal center says farmworkers in the Coachella Valley are faced with an impossible choice when they are told they should quarantine.

“It’s either you work or you don’t eat,” said Gallegos.

The program which aims to solve this, is an extension of California’s Housing for the Harvest fund which was set up to support farmworkers in the Central Coast and Central Valley. Through the program, the state covers 75 percent of quarantine housing costs. Riverside County will use federal CARES Act funding to cover the rest plus two-thousand-dollar stipends to protect workers from lost wages.

Gallegos says the county vote was important for a region whose immigrant population is often overshadowed by its neighbors—Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

“It is historic," said Gallegos. "Not only because of the program, that was initiated by the state of California, but also the county really stepping up to do more, and really listening to us that we need to do more.”

According to county spokesperson Brooke Federico, over 2,000—or 4.5 percent—of the nearly 50,000 who have tested positive for COVID-19 are farmworkers and day laborers. And that is likely an undercount since many people are not comfortable providing their employment information. The county only has employment data for about 50 percent of cases.

And so, the pandemic is a major tipping point. Workers are  already facing fears around immigration policy.  And challenging working conditions are further eroding as climate change increases the number of extreme heat waves and wildfires. Many do not have a safety net to handle this pandemic.

Riverside County’s program is intended to help 250 people. Gallegos says calls to TODEC about how to apply far exceeded that number in the 24 hours since the program was announced. She says the fund is a good start, but clearly more government and private investment is needed.

“By them investing in our farmworkers so they are healthy so they are able to survive this pandemic, is investing in the better good of our region and of our state,” said Gallegos.

But she is heartbroken knowing they will have to send people away. It was just one day after the program was announced, that she received a call that a local farmworker TODEC worked with had died from COVID-19 complications.