BY KARA SHOEMAKER | May 7, 2020
With COVID-19 reaching Santa Barbara County on March 15, and Governor Newsom issuing the executive order to shelter in place just a few days later, many of our community members have lost their source of income and must now figure out how to pay rent and feed their families during a global pandemic.
In the five weeks since COVID-19 reached California, over 3.3 million residents (17% of the state’s labor force) have applied for unemployment, a benefit designed to help people get through tough times like these. In addition, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides $2.2 trillion in relief aid for American workers, families, and small businesses. However, for Santa Barbara’s 40,000 undocumented residents, who make up the backbone of our workforce, these safety nets are not available.
Fortunately, the 805UndocuFund is here to help undocumented families in Santa Barbara and Ventura County. The fund was originally founded in 2018 in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire and subsequent Debris Flows, to provide economic relief to undocumented individuals and families who had lost their homes or their employment due to natural disasters. Since its initial creation, the fund has been relaunched for the Woolsey and Hill Fires in 2018, the Easy and Maria Fires in 2019, and now is opened in response to COVID-19, a new type of disaster to affect our community.
“This is the 3rd time that we have had to activate the 805 UndocuFund. Each time we have opened the fund, we have found new learnings to improve the way we serve our region’s undocumented population,” said Genevieve Flores-Haro, Associate Director of Mixteco/Indigenous Community Organizing Project (MICOP) and 805UndocuFund Steering Committee member. “Because of the social distancing measures in place, we have had to move away from in-person clinics we’ve traditionally used. Our work this time is to find the balance between ways that are both secure, virtual and accessible for our community who might not have internet access or familiarity with online platforms.”
A collective effort between Future Leaders of America (FLA), Mixteco/Indigenous Community Organizing Project, and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), with leadership support provided by the McCune Foundation, the fund provides financial aid to cover expenses such as rent, groceries, and childcare, as well as things like medical and dental expenses, vehicle repairs, legal document replacement and funeral expenses.
“Our undocumented families have fallen out of federal and state relief during the natural disasters that have affected our area. Under this new global pandemic, farmworkers in particular are at unique risk for COVID-19 due to crowded living situations, shared transport to work, preexisting conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and a lack of health access. For our indigenous migrant population, translation work is crucial, as terms like virus and COVID-19 do not exist in our languages,” said Flores-Haro. “Because of the widespread impact and the long term implications of COVID-19, we have seen the waitlist for this fund eclipse all previous waitlists we’ve had combined. Even outside of natural disasters and pandemics, the needs and inequities in our community have always been there.”
Undocumented immigrants in our community predominantly work in sectors that are most impacted by disasters, including service and hospitality, restaurants, child and elder care, day labor, and agriculture. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara and Ventura county, over 7,000 individuals have applied for assistance from 805UndocuFund, 65% of which have no income because they have been laid off due to the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 has exposed the inequity that exists in our society. In this case, there are folks that contribute to our economy, to our society, yet because they lack immigration status they are not eligible to receive any type of state support,” said Eder Gaona-Macado, Executive Director of Future Leaders of America and 805UndocuFund Steering Committee member. “And so there is no safety net for undocumented families, despite the fact that they account for 9-10% of Santa Barbara County’s populations. Through the 805UndocuFund, we hope to build that safety net for undocumented communities.”
805UndocuFund received a $25,000 grant through the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort for Santa Barbara County, vital funding which allowed the organization to hire one Coordinator and two Associates who support outreach, intake form processing and vetting, and the distribution of cash assistance to undocumented families.
“The effects of the pandemic have impacted us all and the Foundation is committed to assisting all Santa Barbara County residents,” said Pedro Paz, Director of Grantmaking at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “One of the groups in our community most impacted by the economic effects of the pandemic have been immigrant families. To assist, the Foundation is happy to support the administration of 805UndocuFund as it works toward providing financial assistance for individuals and families impacted by the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.”
The 805UndocuFund estimates that it would take $6.5 million to meet the current needs of undocumented families in our community. So far the 805 UndocuFund has raised $1 million to meet this demand. Unlike fundraising efforts during past disasters, the global nature of the coronavirus, unemployment challenges, and the drop in the stock market have made fundraising more difficult. To help raise more funds for disbursement to undocumented families in need, 805UndocuFund has launched the #SharetheRelief campaign, where individuals can pledge a portion of their stimulus check from the government.
Since its creation in 2018, the 805UndocuFund has helped over 1600 families and distributed more than $2.3 million dollars. Learn more about the 805UndocuFund by visiting 805undocufund.org. To learn more about #SharetheRelief please visit sharetherelief805.org.