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Plenty of vaccines are available for farmworkers and Latino residents, but not everyone is getting them
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For the last several weeks, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services has dispatched its mobile vaccine units to just about anywhere in Yakima County.

The community health center has focused primarily on the Lower Yakima Valley and has gone to small communities, including Harrah, nearly 20 miles from its Yakima headquarters. It’s coordinated with local growers, providing vaccines to workers and their families.

The clinics were possible thanks to a $25,000 grant from the All in WA organization.

“We have a lot of vaccines, and we’re willing to go anywhere in the Valley,” said Rhonda Hauff, Neighborhood Health’s CEO.

It’s a stark contrast to just a few months ago when Neighborhood Health didn’t have enough doses for everyone who wanted the vaccine.

“Phones were ringing off the hook,” she said. “People who wanted it were beating down the doors to get it.”

That’s not the case now: “We sort of hit that tipping point locally where we have more supply than demand,” Hauff said.

Neighborhood Health is just one of several providers ready to travel to get COVID-19 vaccines into arms. The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic has partnered with agricultural employers to hold on-site clinics. The Yakima Health District, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital and Astria Health have offered pop-up clinics in Tieton, Sunnyside, Granger and other areas in the Lower Valley, setting up at schools, community centers and parking lots.

Clinics encourage making appointments, but walk-ins are usually welcome. Another round of pop-up clinics is planned around the county this week.

These providers are now up against vaccine hesitancy among the public. And with additional obstacles, real or perceived, in accessibility, language and cultural beliefs, there’s a concern that not enough farmworkers — and members of the greater Latino community — are getting vaccinated in the Yakima Valley.

Figures from the state Department of Health show that Latinos make up 13% of the state’s population. So far, Latinos make up just 7% of those fully vaccinated and 8% of those who have received the first shot statewide.

“If we want to go back to normal, we need to get the vaccine,” said Lilian Bravo, director of health care partnerships for the Yakima Health District. “We need the majority of the community to get that vaccine.”

Removing barriers

Zaira Sanchez, emergency relief coordinator for the UFW Foundation, conducted a health survey where 10,000 farmworkers — including more than 2,200 in Washington state — responded to 11 questions regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine. According to Sanchez, 73% of those who responded answered favorably to getting vaccinated.

Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for United Farm Workers, says there has been support from larger employers who offer paid time off or monetary incentives for employees to get their vaccinations, and many have had the support needed to get vaccinated.

But Strater said people employed in smaller farms are having issues.

“(Those) who on average work six days a week, very long hours in those six days, they are not going to go to Yakima to go into the fairgrounds, to a big site during the week. It’s just not accessible,” Strater said.

Strater also said that undocumented farmworkers or an undocumented family member could be an obstacle for farmworkers utilizing federal vaccination sites like that at State Fair Park.

“This is a demographic of people that have a very reasonable reticence to, for instance, go to a FEMA site where the National Guard is posted.”

Latinos make up half of Yakima County’s population. Vaccine information by race and ethnicity isn’t currently available at a county level, but 52% of Yakima County residents who visited the State Fair Park federal vaccine site or its mobile clinics said they were Hispanic or Latino, according to the Yakima Health District.

Latinos are visiting “at the rate we expect them to,” said Bravo of the Yakima Health District. “But we also know there are very real concerns community members have with our federal partners.”

No documentation or identification is required to receive a vaccination, to put people at ease, but the uniforms can be a barrier for some, she said.

The Yakima Health District is working on a new public service campaign with the local Univision station and Radio KDNA, the Granger-based Spanish language radio station, aimed at providing more information about the Department of Defense employees who work at the mass vaccination site at State Fair Park and mobile clinics, said Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez, communications specialist with the Yakima Health District.

“We want to bring more awareness so the community is aware of who they’re interacting with,” she said.

Badillo-Sanchez said the State Fair Park site is now open from noon to 8 p.m. daily, which should accommodate most people’s work schedules.

“We’re trying to reduce as many barriers for our community to continue accessing the (vaccine) site,” she said.

Getting the message out

Zaira Sanchez and Strater have both seen first-hand an even greater struggle for farmworkers: the language barrier. Sanchez mentioned that when the UFW Foundation visits vaccination sites to hand out information from their organization’s booth, they usually end up offering translation and interpretation services.

“As an organization, when we show up to support these events, we get asked to help interpret, when we were hoping to talk to farmworkers and be more of a resource,” Sanchez said. “It shows how, whoever is putting up these events, they don’t have things set up in an appropriate manner.”

Strater also noticed that in the clinics she attended with her agency, most of the vaccinators did not speak Spanish, adding to the cultural gap.

Being able to express anxieties in your own language can help during any process, Sanchez said. Many times past experiences hinder the vaccination process, but having a professional reassure you in your primary language can ease the anxiety and change the experience.

“The ‘señores’ (older gentlemen) tend to be more expressive about how scared they are simply for the injection, though. It really isn’t about what’s in the vaccine, (it’s) ‘I’m afraid of needles,’” Sanchez said. “We kind of laugh at it together.”

The State Fair Park site has bilingual staff, and local health care providers say they have worked to make sure bilingual staff members are available at vaccine clinics.

“As a community health center focused on providing care to our populations in the best way possible, we provide bilingual staff at all our locations, every clinic and event where we are serving patients whose first language is not English. So not only in our clinics, but our off-site vaccine clinics, and even at community events,” said Lori Kelley, senior director of quality at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. “We make sure our signage, our staff and other materials are all in a language that is going to best serve our patients. For the Yakima Valley, that means everything we have in English is also in Spanish.”

Hauff said Neighborhood Health makes sure that bilingual staff are on hand at its clinics and mobile vaccination sites.

Hauff said Neighborhood Health has been working with local growers to schedule vaccination clinics during the day, and growers have allowed workers to take time from their day to receive the vaccine.

“Convenience is a big deal,” she said. “We’re doing what we can to make it as convenient as possible for people to get their vaccine.”

Still, the Latino community, like the general public, has also been caught in misinformation that has contributed to hesitancy, Hauff said. She said the focus now will be on education, informing the public of the benefits of vaccination, and responding to any concerns regarding safety.

Those who have been vaccinated will play a role in getting the word out. People are more inclined to trust people they know, Hauff said.

“The people in the smaller communities we’re going to; the people who work in the farms who signed up (for vaccines) — we hope they’ll be our messenger,” Hauff said.

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Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro speaks at Yakima YWCA event about losing mother to domestic violence
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Dave Navarro was 15 when his mother, Connie Navarro, was murdered in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend. Without a ready support system, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

"One of the things I dealt with as a teenage kid was that I felt very alone and very isolated and didn't have anyone to talk to and share it with," he said Monday during the 27th annual YWCA Yakima Leadership Luncheon.

His mother's murderer also killed her close friend, Sue Jory, before he went on the run. He was not arrested until 1991.

Navarro, guitarist for the rock band Jane’s Addiction and a former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, never attended a bereavement group and didn't get counseling until years later, he said.

"I have found that the counseling and the therapy has been instrumental in terms of me moving forward," said Navarro, who advocates for domestic violence awareness and prevention.

The leadership luncheon is YWCA Yakima's most impactful event, board president Linda Orozco said to open the gathering, moved online this year and last. The organization has seen requests for help increase 30% because of the pandemic.

"We serve over 13,000 people a year. Our crisis line rings over 5,000 times a year," Orozco said of YWCA Yakima, which operates a shelter for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

She thanked those who have supported the nonprofit during the pandemic. "You kept our doors open so our families could continue to live in peace," she said.

Navarro urged continued support for YWCA Yakima and other organizations that provide help and shelter for those impacted by domestic violence, including men. Having music as an outlet was important after his mother's murder. As a guitarist, singer, songwriter and actor, Navarro has a bigger platform for his advocacy.

"Any time I get a chance to speak about the subject, I take it," Navarro said. He has also participated in the #PutTheNailInIt campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence and in 2015 released a documentary called "Mourning Son" about his mother's murder and its impact on his life.

Navarro encouraged those experiencing domestic violence to reach out for help.

"There's sometimes a lot of shame attached to being in a domestically violent situation. They don't want to be judged for being in the situation in the first place," Navarro said. "There is no judgment; there is no shame in reaching out to law enforcement, a counselor or therapist, or finding some shelter.

"Typically these things escalate. They don't de-escalate," he said. "I would beg you to find that help immediately. The shame could kill you."

Local speakers

The YWCA Yakima event also highlights a local survivor and other local speakers. A mother of two daughters now in a loving relationship talked about her appreciation for the organization, which supported her efforts to get clean and sober after she became addicted to methamphetamine. She talked about being controlled and mentally and physically abused by her former partner.

Brian Harris also spoke Monday. His daughter, Emily Escamilla, was killed in a homicide-suicide in Selah in January 2020. She was strangled by her husband, Daniel Escamilla, who later shot himself.

Harris has supported YWCA Yakima in many ways since his daughter's death, including fundraising efforts at his car dealership in Selah. He encouraged donations of money, clothing, food, car seats, strollers and other items.

"Emily Harris was a great girl. She had two children that me and my wife have care of now," he said. "Emily was a girl that cared about other people.

"She did a lot of things in her 30 years. Now the last thing she is doing is" helping save lives, Harris added.

In the program for Monday's event, YWCA Yakima remembered Rocio Ramos-Martinez, 30, who died Jan. 4 from injuries she suffered when she was stomped and run over Jan. 1 near the organization's offices and shelter.

Biden expanding summer food program for 34M schoolchildren

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is expanding a program to feed as many as 34 million schoolchildren during the summer months, using funds from the coronavirus relief package approved in March.

The Agriculture Department announced Monday that it will continue through the summer a payments program that replaced school meals because the pandemic left many children with virtual classes. Families of eligible children would receive $6.82 per child for each weekday. That adds up to $375 per child over the summer months.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the summer benefits a “first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the United States.”

The program reflects the Biden administration’s attempts to nearly stamp out child poverty — an unprecedented push with money for parents, child care centers and schools that could revamp the social safety net. Conservative critics have warned that the spending, if made permanent, could undermine the willingness of poorer Americans to work.

Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the Agriculture Department, said Congress previously approved limited funding for pilot programs to test the effectiveness of the payments. But the coronavirus relief package allowed it to be rolled out nationwide.

Besides the food aid, the relief package allows parents to receive roughly $250 a month starting in July for each child between the ages of 6 and 17. Qualifying families with a child younger than 6 would receive $300 monthly. The payments are part of an enhanced child tax credit that would expire at the end of this year, according to the terms of the most recent coronavirus relief package.

President Joe Biden plans to extend the monthly payments through 2025. The extension would be part of a multitrillion-dollar plan that he intends to announce Wednesday in a joint address to Congress.

Democratic lawmakers have called for making the enhanced tax credit permanent, with Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Suzan DelBene of Washington state and Ritchie Torres of New York issuing a statement last week.

“Expansion of the child tax credit is the most significant policy to come out of Washington in generations, and Congress has an historic opportunity to provide a lifeline to the middle class and to cut child poverty in half on a permanent basis,” the April 20 statement said.

When the school year ends, children have traditionally shifted to other forms of food aid such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. Yet administration officials said that summer feeding programs tend to reach less than 20% of the number served during the school year.

Children could qualify for the new summer benefit if they are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year or if they are under age 6 and live in a SNAP household. Children already on SNAP would get the benefits as a supplement to what they already receive.