[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the Covid-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]
In late December, COPA leaders celebrated the unanimous decision by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to invest nearly $5 million in a six-month Community Outreach & Education pilot program targeting neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. This program will hire 100 community health workers -- trusted people from community-based organizations -- starting January 1, 2021. These trained workers will help educate families, as well as connect people who test positive with needed services, including temporary housing for quarantine or isolation, cash assistance, food, medical care and information about employment rights. Workers will target the hardest hit Census tracts.
The program proposal, created by COPA’s “Breaking the Chain” team, was based on more than 2,000 conversations with Monterey County families impacted by COVID-19, and is similar to other programs in California. In the midst of the pandemic, leaders from COPA’s 28 member institutions launched a listening campaign in which they heard stories about the need for rental assistance; access to testing, tracing, and supported isolation; and access to education and distance learning resources.
Allies spoke in support of the proposal including Building Healthy Communities, Center for Community Advocacy, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Catholic Diocese of Monterey and the Hospitality Industry Association.
When the pandemic struck, it was hard for anyone to know what to do in the face of a whole new kind of uncertainty. Community organizer Maria Elena Manzo did what she knew how to do best: She organized. Manzo works for COPA, Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action. She and her COPA colleagues began early in the pandemic meeting twice a week via Zoom to figure out how they would help mostly Latino workers in the hospitality and agriculture sectors get through the crisis.
Through COPA’s connections, mainly through the group Mujeres en Acción, Manzo and others have made more than 1,600 phone calls since March. They listen to the stories people tell and write them down.
“There were all these stories of how people didn’t know where to go to get tested, or once they got tested they didn’t know what to do or where they could go,” Manzo says. “The list goes on and on.”
COPA volunteer Adriana Molina lost her 65-year-old father to Covid-19 in September. The family believes he contracted the virus at work in the fields.
“Sometimes we asked him to stay home, but he says, ‘I’m fine. I need to work for my rent,’” Molina recalls him saying before his illness.
COPA organizers contacted the County Board of Supervisors and the Health Department over the summer, “so they can see where the gaps are,” Manzo says.
Since then, they’ve met with Health Officer Edward Moreno and Epidemiologist Kristy Michie strategizing how COPA and the Health Department could work together. From there, a wider group with other county representatives and representatives from agriculture and hospitality was formed that they call “Breaking the Chain of Infection.”
Because of the state’s Health Equity Metric, identifying gaps matters to everyone in Monterey County who wants to reopen. As COPA organizers have been working, so have leaders in the Monterey Peninsula’s hospitality sector, whose fate is now tied to controlling the virus in farmworker communities in the Salinas Valley.
[Photo Credit: Parker Seibold/Monterey County Weekly]
COPA Leverages Extension of Eviction Moratorium PLUS $1M for Struggling Renters & Landlords in Santa Cruz Co.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors took two important steps today to respond to the pressure on renters unable to earn a living because of the impact of the pandemic on their jobs and businesses. The Supervisors extended the moratorium on evictions to keep tenants housed while providing funds for landlords to cover missed rent payments. Speaking in support of the Board’s actions, COPA leader Jorge Savala said, “Families have abided by the government call to shelter-in-place to reduce the spread of Covid-19, bearing the consequence of lost income, only now to be faced with losing the roof over their heads. Today’s decision to extend the moratorium on evictions will help to prevent a new pandemic of homelessness.”
Landlords are also feeling the pinch when rents are unpaid. As a result of meetings with COPA in June, Supervisor’s Leopold and McPherson sponsored a $1 million rental assistance program from CARES Act funds for inclusion in the 2021-22 budget. Supervisor Leopold, having initiated the original moratorium on evictions at the start of the pandemic, added; “I recognized the severity of the problem in our community and worked hard to find the money to help people during their time of need.”
COPA Leads Community Effort to Extend Renters Protections and Funding for Landlords, Communities Organized for Relational Power
California IAF Leverages Covid-19 Relief for Undocumented Immigrants Using Old-School Practices on New Technologies
When politics, like most other activities, was forced to migrate online, the IAF didn’t seem an obvious winner. For 80 years, the group has embraced one-on-one conversations and “house meetings” to create organized communities whose strong bonds endure beyond a single campaign. These relationships, forged in person, smoothed the transition to digital organizing.
After the virus hit, a flurry of texts, calls and social media outreach followed as California’s IAF groups scrambled to get their people on Zoom calls. The news was grim: Budgets were tight and layoffs widespread. Undocumented people, often the hardest-hit population, were excluded from most forms of aid. The Cal-EITC push emerged from these digital house meetings. “It came from the lament of the people,” said the Rev. Arturo Corral of Our Lady Queen of Angels / La Placita Catholic Church in Los Angeles, a One LA leader.
In late April, local leaders began gathering Zoom participants from their local networks. Meanwhile, organizers sought out influential lawmakers, focusing on three Budget Committee members: State Assembly members David Chiu and Eloise Gómez Reyes and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. All three pledged to work to expand the tax credit.
The IAF groups were “not at all” confident that the tax credit expansion would end up in the governor’s budget. “Most people told us this was not going to happen,” [One LA Lead Organizer Robert] Hoo said. But after weeks of further organizing, it was included in Gov. Newsom’s June 30 budget.
[Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images]
COPA Leverages $2 Million for EsperanzaCare - Healthcare for Low-Income Undocumented in Monterey County
What started out in 2015 as a $500,000 pilot from Monterey County became a bonafide $2 million health initiative to cover the uninsured in 2017. Esperanza Care gives basic healthcare to undocumented residents who are not covered by state or federal subsidized insurance, and was renewed by the  Board of Supervisors in the 2020-2021 county budget. Esperanza Care came about thanks to efforts of community groups like the local branch of Community Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA).
COPA leader María Elena Manzo says that Esperanza Care came out of the county trying to fill a major hole in Medi-Cal, and relentless advocacy work:
“We have it because we kept showing up. [The county supervisors] couldn’t ignore us,”
she says. Esperanza Care costs $2 million annually.
The Buzz 07.16.20, Monterey Weekly
As Tax Deadline Approaches, California IAF Celebrates Inclusion of Some Undocumented Families in State Tax Break Program
[Excerpts from various articles]
In initial talks with state legislatures, the organizers and leaders of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA were not too sure that the state would budge on who would qualify for California's Earned Income Tax credit, or CalEITC. The tax credit, is intended to give cash back to the poorest working families, but as Covid-19 hit it was clear the threshold to qualify for the credit was not reflective of who the poorest were in the state.
In COPA's eyes, structural change was needed in the form of extending the tax credit to more taxpayers, including undocumented workers. The monetary relief the state circulated to lessen the economic blow of Covid-19 was a one time payment of up to $500 per individual and the deadline to qualify for the aid ended in June 30. This is in to comparison to the Federal CARES Act which provide a one time payment of $1,200.
Faith and community leaders with the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) celebrated a victory Tuesday after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget that includes an expansion of the California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) to undocumented workers with young children.
While not a full expansion to all undocumented workers, the tax credit will help tens of thousands of families with at least one child under the age of 6 who pay their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Some households may receive up to $2,600 each year, depending on their income and family size.
According to IAF, undocumented immigrants represent 10% of the California workforce, and their labor has largely fallen into work deemed “essential” throughout the pandemic — in agriculture, food distribution and service, elder care and child care, among other occupations....
On May 5, more than 1,200 California IAF leaders, along with 10 Bishops and nine state legislators, convened on Zoom to press Newsom to expand the Cal EITC. More than 1,000 faith and community leaders signed on to a letter in support of the expansion, and in the thick of budget negotiations they organized hundreds of leaders to send letters to the governor and to the top leadership of the senate and assembly....
“We commend Gov. Newsom and state legislators for investing in families, especially during a deficit year,” said Rabbi Susan Leider with Congregation Kol Shofar, Marin Organizing Committee. “We know they have faced enormous pressure to cut back, and instead they have paid in. This tax credit is not just a one-time handout, but will help families year after year. Our leaders have been working for months to make sure our essential workers aren’t left behind, and this is a huge step forward.”
[Photo Credit: Erika Mahoney, 90.3 KAZU]
Faith, Community Leaders Praise Tax Break for Undocumented Workers, Good Times by: Johanna Miller [pdf]
California Tax Breaks Extended To Undocumented Families, NPR, KAZU 90.3 [pdf]
California Approves a Tax Credit to More Low-Income Families, Including Undocumented Workers, Monterey County Now Weekly [pdf]
In mid-April, Governor Gavin Newsom allocated $75 million in emergency assistance to undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic. Philanthropic organizations and private donors pledged an additional $50 million.
But, undocumented immigrants still don’t qualify for the federal stimulus checks and can’t apply for unemployment insurance. They are also barred from the state’s tax credit program for low-income workers.
“Governor Newsom has come out many times to talk about the value of the immigrant community, a recognition that the undocumented are part of California and deserve to be part of the California dream. And this... this is contradictory to leaving people out of that tax break,” said McManus....
Immigrant advocates say they’re not giving up, especially now.
“At the same time that we can see the disparity right now. We also can see how much we benefit from them,” said Maria Elena Manzo, a COPA leader.
COPA’s Tim McManus says this fight is about recognition through policy, and putting money in people’s pockets.
“So forgetting about what you think about fairness or justice or morality, this is an economic stimulus. We're gonna recover stronger if all of California can land back on their feet sooner,” he said.
[Photo Credit: Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Voices of Monterey Bay]
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans on April 15 to make $75 million available to help undocumented workers left out of unemployment relief programs like the CARES Act, but California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) organizations say this is not enough. One LA-IAF leaders, with the rest of the state network, are calling on Governor Newsom to do more for undocumented immigrants.
"Our immigrants make California a beautiful state," said Father Arturo Corral of Our Lady Queen of Angels / La Placita. "We need to always ask [the governor] to do his best."
Leaders with [COPA-IAF, One LA-IAF, Inland Communities Organizing Network (ICON), Bay Area IAF, and Common Ground are calling] for several initiatives to help undocumented workers including: expanding the eligibility of State Disability Insurance to workers unemployed because of Covid-19 but ineligible for unemployment insurance; sending $1,200 to any Californian who qualified for the California Earned Income Tax Credit last year or this year; expanding no-cost to low-cost hotel options to agricultural workers; making more money available to food banks and school districts feeding students.
[Photo by Chava Sanchez, LAist]
Newsom Announces Covid-19 Relief For Undocumented Workers; Advocates Say It's Inadequate, Monterey County Weekly [pdf]
California Bishops Ask Governor to Increase Aid to Undocumented and Low-Wage Workers During Pandemic, California Catholic Conference of Bishops [pdf]
Letter to Governor Newsom, California IAF
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans on April 15 to make $75 million available to help undocumented workers left out of unemployement relief programs like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act known as CARES. It could mean $500 each in the hands of 150,000 adults after applications start being accepted next month....
“Governor Newsom’s plan to help undocumented immigrants is woefully inadequate...What is owed in justice should never be given to charity. While we commend Governor Newsom for having good intentions, far more is needed to provide effective and equitable relief for undocumented workers and their families.”
-- Janet Hirsch, leader with One LA-IAF.
[COPA-IAF, One LA-IAF, and Inland Communities Organizing Network (ICON), Common Ground and Bay Area IAF] called for several initiatives to help undocumented workers including: expanding the eligibility of State Disability Insurance to workers unemployed because of Covid-19 but ineligible for unemployment insurance; sending $1,200 to any Californian who qualified for the California Earned Income Tax Credit last year or this year; expanding no-cost to low-cost hotel options to agricultural workers; making more money available to food banks and school districts feeding students.
[Photo by Nic Coury, Monterey County Weekly]
Newsom Announces Covid-19 Relief For Undocumented Workers; Advocates Say It's Inadequate, Monterey County Weekly
Letter to Governor Newsom, California IAF