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Pandemic hits communities of color hard on Long Island

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While previous inequities between predominantly white and predominantly Latinx and Black communities have led to increased challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, Make the Road NY, MRNY, is trying to relieve and resolve economic, social and medical issues facing communities of color in Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Westchester

Black and Latino New Yorkers face the immediate and long-term risks of COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate compared to white and Asian communities, according to statistics from the Nassau County Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health.

Local villages with a minority-majority population, like Freeport, Valley Stream and Hempstead, had the highest rate of infection in Nassau.  

Latinx and African-Americans also saw a significantly higher death rate .

Supporting medical services and helping financially to seek medical aid has been a primary goal of Make the Road NY, all services which are difficult to access in the communities they serve. 

At its core, Make the Road NY implements policy innovation, community organizing, education and legal services to provide safety, solidarity and support to those in need with a focus on Latinx communities.

“The immigrant communities continue to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19,”  said Elina Fernandez, an activist and Lead Organizer for MRNY. I think that communities of color continue to suffer.”

Education Efforts

In an effort to close the gap of racial disparity amidst COVID-19 statistics, MRNY published a report on the impact of working-class immigrants, Black and Latinx New Yorkers called “Excluded from the Epidemic,” in April 2020. This report’s purpose is to highlight the challenges that these communities face that are not seen in nightly news statistics. 

In taking responses from 244 people across the communities they aid, one third of which who are undocumented, it was found that 58 percent of participants have been sick themselves or have had a family member who was ill. This statistic is comparable with the 48 percent of participants who did not know where to turn for medical attention due to questions of immigration status, explained Eliana Fernandez. She said the driving factor was fear. 

Not only is there fear about the uncertainty of the future, but parents are also afraid about how they are going to feed their children if they lose their job and do not qualify for governmental aid. There is also the fear being experienced by families who lost a loved one and are in need of mental health assistance. 

MRNY is pushing to make these services available and accessible to everyone in downstate New York regardless of status. 

In addition to spreading information about available resources, Make the Road NY works with other non-profit organizations and government entities to not only advance this spread, but also provide products in demand, such as groceries. The Office of Hispanic Affairs of Nassau County relays information about upcoming food banks for Make the Road NY to then spread to the people they serve. 

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, NDLON, strives to improve the life of day laborers, migrants and low-wage workers. In wake of the coronavirus pandemic, NDLON focused at a national level by creating information and spreading education to their member organizations so that they could distribute to the day laborers because many times workers are isolated from sources of information, said Nadia Marin-Molina, co-executive director for NDLON.

The dedication of MRNY members to the public is seen in their continued efforts after recovering from the virus themselves. NDLON experienced their members coming into contact with coronavirus while working in local communities as well. One of MRNY’s offices is located in Brentwood, which experienced very high rates of positive tests for COVID-19 in comparison to other areas in Suffolk County. MRNY executives urge members to seek medical attention at the first sign of illness to protect themselves and their community regardless of their immigration status, and make efforts to provide resources to obtain these services. Fernandez has taken notice of many clinics and testing locations that have opened in the result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The goal to educate the community is seen in MRNY’s active support of those who do have an immigration status to go apply for Emergency Medicaid. This allows them to get medical care and even get tested for COVID-19 without being questioned about their immigration status. 

MRNY also supports literacy programs to make medical aid more accessible when there is a language barrier that may prohibit care. Fernandez recognizes that there are translators in the hospital, but with the high influx of patients, they can only translate for so many at a time. In addition, family members who may be their loved one’s translator are no longer allowed into the hospital under COVID-19 precautions. 

Undocumented workers left out

While unemployment benefits and other federal aid have become a cushion for those who lost their job, undocumented workers in New York are left without any financial help. Undocumneted workers are unable to apply for unemployment benefits and other financial aid such as food stamps, leaving them without federal or state help. 

“Undocumented workers have contributed more than $1.4 billion per year to state and local funds, and then more directly to unemployment, [but] are absolutely unable to access those funds,” said Marin-Molina during the Hofstra University’s virtual towh hall on Systematic Racism and the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Communities of Color on Long Island on June 17. 

In early April, stimulus checks from the government were given to tax filers with a Social Security number. This financial boost was denied to the over 11 million undocumented people who were living in the U.S. and anyone from a mixed immigration status family whose tax payer does not have a Social Security number, according to the according to the Migration Policy Institute and the IRS Economic Payment Information Center. 

Marin-Molina said unemployment services and stimulus checks “were sort of the two key financial responses, and undocumented workers were exlcluded from both of those.” 

A report by James A. Parrott and Lina Moe at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs identified in “Excluded from the Epidemic,” by MRNY, found that “68% of job loss in New York City has been among people of color, with an especially high figure among Latinx New Yorkers,” and “192,000 undocumented workers in New York City have lost their jobs or been unable work since the crisis began.” 

The Freeport Trailer, located on Bennington Avenue, has been a place for day laborers to connect with employers, eat breakfast, and take training and English as a Second Language classes for nearly 20 years. Marin-Molina said the Freeport Trailer adjusted to state regulations in lieu of the coronavirus pandemic and were adhering to social distancing requirements under the non-profit organization CoLoKi, Inc. 

An eviction notice from the Village of Freeport gave people accessing the trailer 72 hours to leave. 

“Within a couple of days, not even, they didn’t bother going through a court process, they came in, locked the trailer, shut it, and removed it from the premises,” Marin-Molina added.  

Village Attorney Howard Colton claimed the village found various health hazards and stated, “it could have been a hotspot for COVID-19” in a May article published by the LI Herald. 

Marin-Molina said that the trailer was shut down due to a lack of social distancing, which she claimed was not true. 

The removal Freeport Trailer is under ongoing investigation by Nassau County officials, leaving day laborers and homeless people who depended on the services provided without this form of direct aid. 

To ease financial burden, NDLON created a national fund in order to be able to provide some funds to the local organizations that they can distribute as cash support to day laborers.

Make the Road NY has developed a recovery plan which urges New York State to create a $3.5 billion Emergency Worker Fund to financially support workers that have lost their source of income found on social media as #Recovery4All. 

“People who have been excluded and immigrants regardless of their status will be able to qualify for that fund,” Elina Fernandez said. 

In addition to this financial relief plan, MRNY is urging Governor Cuomo to extend the rent moratorium past the August deadline and suspend mortgage payments. Fernandez has seen an immediate concern from the communities she works with about their ability to pay months of back rent and is pushing for more time to recover. 

Fernandez is also working under the hashtag #FreeThemAll which pushes for the release of people held in detention centers 

“I think it is impossible to maintain social distance when you are in a cell” said Fernandez, who has noticed exponential rates of COVID-19 among imprisoned populations. 

Make the Road NY holds bi-weekly Zoom meetings to communicate with members in addition to a WhatsApp group for people without access to cellular service. They also spread information through flyers and Facebook Live sessions where community members are encouraged to participate. 

For more information, visit https://maketheroadny.org, or https://ndlon.org to learn more about the work NDLON does in Long Island.