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Financial relief coming for agricultural workers in Oregon who are self-quarantining

The new program will provide up to 2 weeks of financial relief to eligible applicants, regardless of immigration status.

PORTLAND, Ore — Agricultural workers in Oregon will be getting financial relief from the Oregon Worker Relief Coalition, the organization announced Saturday.

The statewide coalition that created the Oregon Worker Relief Fund announced the launch of a new source of financial assistance for agricultural workers who are self-quarantining to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The Oregon Worker Quarantine Fund will provide up to two weeks of financial relief to agricultural workers age 18 and older, regardless of federal immigration status. 

The Quarantine Fund is administered by the Oregon Worker Relief Coalition, made up of several community-based organizations, working in collaboration with the State of Oregon and the Office of Governor Kate Brown.

It will utilize the same universal state-wide application system as the Oregon Worker Relief Fund.

“When people working on farms or in food processing plants are exposed to COVID-19, they have few options to prevent the virus from spreading besides giving up their paycheck,” said Ramon Valdez, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Relationships at Innovation Law Lab. “The Quarantine Fund will help us contain this pandemic by taking the financial stress off of workers who keep Oregonians fed and agricultural businesses running.”

RELATED: Here are the 11 Oregon ZIP codes that had the most new COVID-19 cases last week

The Quarantine Fund has been designed to center the lived experience of Oregon’s agricultural workers. With an average wage of $24,200 per year, most agricultural workers report that they cannot afford to take two weeks off to quarantine if they were in contact with COVID-19. 

"Over the years we've decided to unfortunately intentionally exclude them from unemployment insurance and other programs that other workers in Oregon have access to," Valdez told KGW. "For a lot of these workers, to make the decision to self-quarantine is really the decision to lose their job. And so it's an impossible choice."

Food packing and agriculture worksites are over-represented in workplace outbreaks tracked by the Oregon Health Authority.

“Many in our state’s agricultural workforce are immigrants who have been left out of federal relief programs, creating additional financial stress for families,” said Reyna Lopez, Executive Director at PCUN, Oregon's Farmworker Union. “At the same time, COVID-19 outbreaks have been more common at agricultural worksites where it is necessary for people to work close together.

Open to all agricultural workers, regardless of immigration status, the Quarantine Fund fills a gap for people who are keeping the food supply-chain up and running.”

It hits close to home for Lopez; she said her mom works at a processing plant in Polk County and early on in the pandemic one of her coworkers died from COVID-19, and multiple people at the facility got sick.

"I worry about her every single day when she's going [to work]," Lopez told KGW. "People aren't able to do the one thing that is the best line of defense right now to COVID-19: being able to work from home and not have to interact with a bunch of folks."

Agricultural workers must be 18 years old or older; work in agriculture or farming (including dairy, food processing, slaughtering, fishing, trees and nursery sectors); quarantine for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19; and diagnosed with COVID-19 or seeking medical care or taking care of a family member due to COVID-19.

RELATED: Here are the 64 active coronavirus workplace outbreaks in Oregon

The Quarantine Fund provides up to 2 weeks of financial relief to eligible applicants, with the ability to re-apply if they need to quarantine again. The relief payments—$430 for one-week and $860 for two-weeks—are determined with the average weekly living expense factor.

Agricultural workers can apply for relief through local community-based organizations by calling 1-888-274-7292.