Last week, President Donald Trump signed into law a bipartisan $2 trillion economic stimulus package aimed to support workers and the U.S. economy through the devastating spread of Covid-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act is needed to ensure that SEIU members and other working families who are still showing up to work and on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus, are protected and safe.
But much more is needed. The bill leaves some of the communities that are most in need of help in this moment of crisis with less care and assistance than others, and in so doing makes all of us less safe. Immigrants are our coworkers, neighbors and friends. They live in our communities and right now are on the frontlines of the epidemic. They are powerful leaders in SEIU, and without them our service and care workforces would grind to a halt. Yet this bill, together with the one signed by the President last week, excludes millions of them from some of the core programs designed to keep us all safe and able to weather this storm.
One out of six healthcare providers who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic are immigrants, including 28 percent of physicians and surgeons; 24 percent of nurses and psychiatric and homecare workers. In hospitals, childcare centers, airports, office buildings and other workplaces across America, immigrants are essential workers fighting to win a union, and united to stop the spread of the coronavirus and ensure that all working people are protected as we go about our work.
Yet this bill leaves millions of them unable to access Medicaid to pay for testing for the virus, including many Dreamers, people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and undocumented workers. The bill provides cash funds that will enable many people who are sick, or sheltering in place, to do so without starving their families or losing their homes. But this bill makes millions of immigrants ineligible for these programs and many of them will therefore be forced to leave home to work despite the danger to themselves or others. Excluding them from the same medical and other services that everyone else can obtain is not only morally wrong but dangerous to the health and well-being of all our communities.
Essential workers like TPS holder, Arcadio Mejia, a nurse assistant for over twelve years who continues to show up to work and clock-in extra hours to help meet the demand as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise. Arcadio worries of contracting the virus and in turn putting his family at risk.
We must and can do better for workers like Arcadio Mejia. Congress should immediately begin work on a new bill that ensures that everyone who needs testing and treatment of the virus can do so regardless of immigration status and provide the assistance necessary to allow everyone who must stay home to protect their family or the public’s health to do so.
(Rocío Sáenz, is SEIU International Executive Vice President and iAmerica President)