A coronavirus relief fund set up for undocumented workers in Washington state has seen significant demand.

But it’s also received more than $250,000 in donations.

In collaboration with Scholarship Junkies, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, the Washington Dream Coalition started a COVID-19 Relief Fund for the state’s undocumented individuals through Scholarship Junkies’ GoFundMe account.

The initial goal was to provide at least 65 families with emergency financial relief in award amounts of between $500 and $1,500, according to the GoFundMe site.

In the last 20 days, more than 1,200 donors have contributed to the account, which reached $267,000 Tuesday.

Since the application window opened April 8, the fund has received close to 6,000 applications. Monserrat Padilla, a staff member at the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said funding distributions will be staggered to ensure equity that might not be available through a “first come, first serve” approach.

High-risk applicants, such as those out of jobs, will be the priority, although the team is still figuring out logistics. About a third of the funds will provide relief to King County residents, while the rest will be spread out statewide, Padilla said.

Meanwhile, local and state agencies continue to reach out to Spanish-speaking populations to provide them with information about COVID-19.

Finances and fear

If undocumented workers are Undocumented individuals do not qualify for unemployment benefits from the state’s Employment Services Division. They’re also not eligible for employment compensation or other financial assistance through the CARES Act — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — passed by Congress to address the economic fallout of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Many people who are undocumented are still working, given that agriculture is considered an essential industry. Some advocates have raised concerns about workplace measures to protect people against the coronavirus. Jorge L. Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a news release that people “shouldn’t have to choose between risking exposure to the COVID-19 virus or losing their shelter and access to food.”

Some agencies, including the Sunnyside-based nonprofit Nuestra Casa, report it’s been difficult to get clients to accept help, given recent proposals from the Trump administration related to the Census and use of public benefits.

Caty Padilla, executive director of Nuestra Casa, said that although the proposed changes have been blocked, the nonprofit has had to stress that people impacted by the pandemic should reach out for help and that accepting it won’t hurt their future chances at obtaining residency status.

“Our community was already reluctant to seek out assistance,” she said. “We’ve had to stress that applying for help now will not impact residency decisions. We’ve had to let them know, ‘This will not count against you.’”

Padilla said many of Nuestra Casa’s calls have been for help with food and unemployment assistance, as well as from small business owners who are wondering what they’re allowed to do or how they can weather the temporary shutdown. The nonprofit is looking into how best to meet those needs, she said.

Other resources

Maria Siguenza, executive director of the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said a statewide program offered through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services also could offer temporary assistance for undocumented individuals.

A declaration of a disaster from the governor, which Siguenza said could happen sometime this month, could authorize the Disaster Cash Assistance Program to provide funds for families and individuals who have suffered losses as a result of the disaster.

Eligibility requirements include a loss of income or property as a result of the disaster and residency in the declared disaster area before it happened.

Under the program, applicants do not have to meet citizenship or alien requirements or provide a Social Security number, Siguenza said.

Jose Ortiz, of Catholic Community Services, said the outreach agency is looking for housing services available to community members who can no longer afford to pay rent.

Local outreach

Nuestra Casa and Yakima’s La Casa Hogar have teamed up to help translate new developments into Spanish.

Laura Armstrong, the executive director of La Casa Hogar in Yakima, said Spanish messaging includes weekly TV and radio interviews. Staff also worked with the Yakima School District to share information in Spanish about meals, remote learning and child care resources in the community.

Armstrong said her staff also are working to ensure that Spanish-speaking communities have information about incoming scammers who will be calling and asking for financial information from people for supposed government checks, she said. Padilla said her staff are touching base with people to help counter misinformation and fear with facts.

“We’re telling people what we know about the virus and how they can protect their families,” Padilla said.

Labor and Industries has fixed a technical glitch in its phone line so that Spanish-speaking farm and warehouse workers experiencing possible safety violations in their workplace can connect with Spanish speakers to file a complaint.

The Spanish language number is 1-800-547-8367 or visit https://lni.wa.gov/agency/languages/spanish.

Editor's note: The phone number for La Casa Hogar has been corrected.

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Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.