By James Bowen
Any other sunny spring day, Mario Cabrera would be catering Spanish cuisine in downtown White Plains. But not today. The streets are empty—and so are his wallet and stomach. Instead of pocketing his usual $7-an-hour, Cabrera is one of 61,000 undocumented immigrants in Westchester out of a job due to COVID-19.
The pandemic has led to thousands of layoffs all across Westchester County. Many of the lost jobs are in the service industry and aren’t defined as essential by New York State, so these workers don’t qualify for paid leave. Over 84 percent of Hispanics are ineligible to work from home, according to The Americano, a newspaper which caters to Latino readers, and breadwinners like Cabrera. COVID-19 has had an unsurmountable toll on undocumented immigrants in Westchester who can’t afford to #StayAtHome.
“The ones below the managers are always too scared to ask for work,” Cabrera said. “They’re afraid of losing their residency, their jobs. There’s too many stipulations. And that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in.”
So undocumented workers in White Plains turned to brick-and-mortar stores for jobs.
“Ninety-five percent of restaurant workers are undocumented immigrants,” Isabel Villar, the executive director of El Centro Hispano, a nonprofit charitable organization, said. She advocates for the Latino community in White Plains, and wants to help financially distressed families survive the recession.
Starting April 15, Westchester residents could reap the benefits of government subsidies. The national government is scheduled to send $1,200 checks to families in financial distress, but only to people who filed the 2020 census.
“Only people who pay federal income tax will receive the stimulus package from the government,” Villar said. “The rest of the people—the marginalized ones, the ones moving the economy—are forgotten. That’s why I’m asking for donations to help these people.”
The Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce plans to take out loans in order to distribute aid to struggling families and mitigate the recession. Sonia Montano, the head of the WHCC, described the recession.
“We’re applying for loans,” Montano said. “We are going to try to help people out. We think a check of $200 to buy groceries can help.”
Other Hispanic organizations in Westchester, such as the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, are pushing for the disbursement of need-based financial aid to low-income families fighting unemployment. Through fundraisers and donations, these organizations are raising money to help vulnerable families make ends meet.
Westchester County ranks 11th for unemployment in New York State. The pandemic is a large contributing factor, Heriberto Sosa, the head of the Latino Unity Coalition in Florida, said.
“This is an equal opportunity virus,” Sosa said. “The lack of jobs is hurting people’s ability to put food into the fridge.”
Twenty-one percent of Hispanics are vulnerable to losing their service-sector jobs due to coronavirus, according to a Pew Research Center survey published on March 27.
“There isn’t a blueprint to this problem,” Sosa said. “All us agencies can do is let people know of the opportunities that exist when they appear.”
Undocumented Latinos who did not file for the 2020 census won’t qualify for benefits, which include food and housing in $1,200 pay-outs, Villar said. This is also why Latino communities currently see the lowest employment rate among demographics across the country at 16 percent, she said.
On March 25 the Senate passed a newly proposed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security Act (CARES), which will provide loan forgiveness to nonprofits that disburse money and waivers to communities in need.
“It will provide temporary relief access until the company is ready to get one its feet again,” Montano said.
The bill is the first step in the right direction to combatting the 2020 recession, which Hispanic communities in Westchester are fighting to survive.