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A rally to support undocumented (and essential) workers shows great need.

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After more than 10 weeks into sheltering in place, with reopening underway, it can feel like the urgent relief work has already been done.

But relief work continues in earnest. And it continues in particular for the people who were left out of the earlier action.

On May 26, before casting a vote in support of Stage 2 reopening, County Supervisor Jane Parker said, “We are putting the more vulnerable people who have fewer choices and often have fewer resources and often don’t have access to paid sick leave [at risk],” referring to the undocumented immigrant workforce. “They’re the ones who are asking to go back to work in the segments that we’re opening up.”

The California Department of Social Services designated 12 nonprofits across the state to administer one-time direct assistance to undocumented immigrants, up to $500 per individual, and up to $1,000 per household. For our region, it’s the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County; when the application period opened on May 18, the phone system and website crashed due to demand.

The state has allocated $75 million for this program, and expects to fund 150,000 people, until June 30 or when funding runs out. “Given the economic hardship undocumented adults are experiencing due to Covid-19, this disaster relief assistance may run out within a very short period of time,” according to the state’s FAQ.

There’s also UndocuFund Monterey Bay, which will give 100 percent of donations as direct cash assistance of up to $500 to households in need. “Undocumented workers are over-represented in the service, hospitality, and agriculture industries; industries severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to the fund website. “This has led to the loss of their homes, wages, and/or employment. At the same time, undocumented workers have been excluded from federally and state funded safety net programs.”

That’s where El Pajaro Community Development Corporation comes in, with an innovative idea for something resembling the federal CARES Act for small business owners who can’t get in on the Payroll Protection Program or other benefits in the federal relief package.

“We realized that many of the people we serve are not going to be eligible or are going to have a hard time accessing the CARES Act,” says Carmen Herrera-Mansir, executive director of El Pajaro CDC, based in Watsonville.

So Herrera-Mansir started the process of building a small, local version of a business relief plan. She contacted Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, and they agreed to be the lending agency for El Pajaro CDC’s Monterey Bay-area clients.

They also needed a private source of money, and Herrera-Mansir reached out to the Community Foundation for Monterey County, which agreed to loan $1 million to MEDA. “There was this big gaping hole [in the CARES Act],” Community Foundation President/CEO Dan Baldwin says. “This is a way to help correct that.”

The final piece El Pajaro CDC needed was a 5-percent loan guarantee. So Herrera-Mansir contacted her elected officials, and the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and Salinas City Council signed on to be on the hook for the remaining $50,000.

She’s still waiting for the ink to dry on the Fondo Empresarial Emergency Loan Program and has done zero outreach, but already has a waiting list of more than 30: “That tells you a lot about the need.”

The nonprofit works with about 300 businesses per year; she calculates about 75 percent were forced to close due to the shutdown. Business owners will be eligible to apply for loans of $5,000 to $50,000; they’ll likely average $10,000-$15,000.

El Pajaro CDC works with small entrepreneurs – the embodiment of the American Dream. Even for those who do have legal immigration status, they might be unsophisticated and lack the type of record-keeping required for the PPP. They are deeply invested financially and emotionally in their businesses – everything from a nopales distributor to a vegan sausage maker, a threading salon to a shoe seller. In Herrera-Mansir’s words, “They’re people who can lose everything.”

The loan program, she says, fills her with hope. It fills me with hope, too.

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