By Bishop Thomas Zinkula
Essential workers have been the backbone of our communities long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During these past two years, we as a society have come to realize and acknowledge our dependence on them. They include grocery store clerks, healthcare workers, cleaners, meatpacking plant workers, and delivery drivers. Essential workers continue to show up for work in person, risking their health to serve others. Some became ill during the pandemic, and some died.
Our nation applauded essential workers for their role in fulfilling our immediate needs but, because of their immigration status, excluded some of them from pandemic relief, such as stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, hazard pay and paid sick leave.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, low-wage workers perform much of the essential work in our communities. These workers most often are women, immigrants and people of color. The National Immigration Forum estimates that 70% of farmworkers across the country are undocumented. Many of them live in Iowa, a largely agricultural state, which helps feed the nation.
In Scott County, excluded and essential workers struggle with the economic and emotional effects of the pandemic, such as COVID-19 medical bills, “long COVID,” job loss, and exhaustion from businesses being under-staffed and workers overworked.
What can Scott County do? It can invest in the well-being of workers by providing pandemic relief.
Scott County has received $33.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to address the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has an opportunity to correct an injustice by allocating a portion of its ARPA windfall to essential workers, especially those excluded from previous rounds of relief.
While sharing their stories with the Scott County Board of Supervisors at public hearings, most recently on Feb. 17, a group of essential workers requested pandemic relief. They asked not for charity, but for justice for those excluded from pandemic relief funds. They feel ignored by the Board, which they say has not acted on their request and has declined to meet with them.
Based on Scripture passages that the goods of the earth belong to all people, the Catholic Church teaches that everyone has basic human rights to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
Furthermore, unauthorized immigrants pay state and local taxes, including sales, property and income taxes. All workers who contribute to the well-being of the economy deserve to be treated in a similar manner regarding pandemic relief.
I applaud these essential workers for their courage in sharing their stories and requesting their fair share of pandemic relief from the Scott County Board of Supervisors. The voices of excluded and essential workers have been heard. Now the listeners, the Board, ought to respond with fairness and justice.
I walk in solidarity with these workers and ask our elected officials and the people of the county, all of whom have benefited from their labor, to do the right thing by acknowledging their dignity and worth.