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Oregon fund provides $60 million in relief to immigrants, says more needed

Oregon immigrants have received more than $60 million in pandemic relief through the Oregon Worker Relief Fund over the last year, according to the coalition of advocacy groups that pushed to establish the program.

That money has gone to help more than 37,000 people who were ineligible for other public programs because they are undocumented.

The fund has raised roughly $110 million since it launched last year, with roughly half that money coming from state funds allocated by the Oregon Legislature. The fund also received a $250,000 donation from the city of Portland last year and has received donations from individuals and foundations.

“Immigrant Oregonians are a vital part of our state, but many were intentionally excluded from federal pandemic relief,” Isa Peña, interim executive director of Causa Oregon, one of the community organizations operating the fund, said in a statement. “Excluding immigrants from desperately-needed relief based on their legal status left Oregon families and communities at severe risk as folks have struggled to pay rent, put food on the table, pay for health care, and keep utilities on during the pandemic.”

The Oregon Worker Relief Fund has offered relief funding for immigrant communities impacted by the pandemic, grants for agricultural workers who have had to quarantine due to COVID-19 and money to support immigrant-owned small businesses.

The money has gone to Oregonians in 34 of the state’s 36 counties, said Martha Sonato, president of Oregon Worker Relief. The majority of applicants work in the food industry or in food processing or farming, and over 80% have children.

However, organizations advocating for the fund say more money is needed to support immigrant communities across the state.

Individuals who have received relief from the fund were given a maximum of $1,720, which advocates say is not nearly enough to support those experiencing hardships from the pandemic.

Beneficiaries of the fund did not have access to unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, so they’ve been unable to access the enhanced unemployment benefits the federal government has provided during the pandemic. They also didn’t receive stimulus checks.

“As the pandemic drags on, we must continue to invest in Oregon workers who continue to be left out of federal unemployment and stimulus programs,” Jose Cruz, product manager and designer at Innovation Law Lab, which supports the fund, said in a statement. “The scope of the extreme economic hardship caused by the pandemic and longstanding inequities is vast. The contributions to Oregon Worker Relief during its first year, while significant, are not sufficient to meet the need we face.”