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Cash assistance for undocumented workers was supposed to be on its way. But that money, promised by a quasi-local agency to local workers that include caregivers, housecleaners, street vendors, day laborers, and hotel and restaurant workers, has yet to materialize.
On April 9, after the D.C. Council decided against making room in the District’s budget for those funds, Events DC announced it would set aside $5 million for undocumented workers across the city. And on April 17, the Open Society Foundations announced it was making a $250,000 grant available to the immigration legal services group, Ayuda, that could distribute those dollars to clients.
But there appears to be a hold up when it comes down to disbursing that money.
While Events DC has finalized its micro-grant programs for restaurant and hotel employees, it hasn’t done so for the money earmarked for D.C.’s undocumented workers. “Plans are forthcoming on the undocumented worker relief funds,” a spokesperson for the city’s official convention and sports authority said in a press statement on May 1. In a separate email, the spokesperson said Events DC is currently working on this “very quickly” and is in the process of identifying third party groups who could distribute the dollars to workers in great need. She did not respond to questions about a timeline.
A spokesperson for Open Society says the organization is “still evaluating our grant making and hope to move quickly.”
Meanwhile, rent has been due twice since D.C. declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. And unlike tens of thousands of workers in D.C. who’ve been laid off, undocumented workers have not received any government checks that can go towards rent.
The D.C. Council considered giving cash assistance to undocumented workers in an emergency bill it passed earlier this spring, but ultimately struck that effort from legislation it passed on April 7. On Tuesday, the Council passed more emergency relief measures related to COVID-19, but those did not include providing cash to undocumented workers.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has also declined to make room for those funds in her budget.
“We cannot meet the need for every individual and every business with only District funds,” Bowser said during an April 3 press conference when City Paper asked about workers who can’t receive unemployment benefits or stimulus checks due to their immigration status.
While the Council has banned evictions during the length of D.C.’s public health emergency, many are worried for the day when the moratorium lifts. That’s the case for Fredy Acabal and his brother, who haven’t been able to pay their $1,385 a month in rent payments. The repayment program included in the Council’s Tuesday relief package allows landlords to use security deposits and last month’s rent toward missed payments as long as tenants agree to it. But tenants still owe back rent and undocumented residents can’t pay that if they’ve been laid off and received nothing so far.
DC Jobs With Justice, along with other groups, have been calling on District lawmakers to set aside public dollars for undocumented workers like Montgomery County legislators did last month. The delayed funds from Events DC and Open Society further underscore the need for matched government investment, the groups say.
“DC residents who are barred from other assistance shouldn’t have to wait weeks for funds dedicated to help them survive an emergency. And we have no timeline for when funds will be available,” says Elizabeth Falcon, the executive director for DC Jobs with Justice.
“As the Mayor and DC Council formally take up the budget next week, we need solutions that meet the full needs of families who live and work in DC. The $5 million from Events DC will not stabilize the tens of thousands of undocumented DC residents who are locked out of federal assistance and unemployment. These workers are the backbone of our booming economy particularly in hospitality and construction industries,” Falcon says.
Advocacy groups have been trying to get cash into the hands of undocumented residents. A joint fundraiser with Sanctuary DMV and other organizations have called on individuals to donate their stimulus checks to undocumented workers who’ve been laid off due to COVID-19. Organizers raised over $580,000. Sanctuary DMV has already distributed at least $70,000 to 110 families and plans to distribute another $55,000 to 70 more families within the next week.
“As an all-volunteer group we will have reached 180 families by the end of this week. However, the need is enormous,” says Madhvi Venkatraman, an organizer with Sanctuary DMV. “If we, as volunteers, can reach so many in a few weeks, the DC government should be able to reach exponentially more people in the same amount of time. But, they haven’t yet.”
Ayuda also has an existing COVID-19 fund. A spokesperson tells City Paper that the fund has supported 80 clients and their families over the past seven weeks. These families live in the DMV region and have received between $600 to $1,000, depending on the needs of each family.
This post has been updated to include comment from Sanctuary DMV.