Eastern Iowa meatpacking plant workers pick up $600 pandemic payments as West Liberty Utility Relief Program opens

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Last year on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, a group of workers excluded from pandemic financial assistance attended a West Liberty City Council meeting in search of financial assistance from federal funds allocated to eastern Iowa. Photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa
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Escucha Mi Voz Iowa is the first group anywhere in the country to roll out the $700 million USDA program 

West Liberty, IA – After two months of list-building and eligibility screenings, Escucha Mi Voz Iowa became the first organization anywhere in the country yesterday to begin handing out $600 pandemic relief checks to farmworkers and meatpacking plant workers as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Food Worker Relief program.

On Monday, January 2, the group handed out more than $150,000 in direct cash payments to over 300 Congolese, Burmese, and Hispanic farm and food workers. The economic stimulus will begin flowing as soon as banks open this morning after the New Year holiday.

Escucha Mi Voz members say they will continue to dole out the $600 checks to over a thousand more during the course of this week in Iowa City, West Liberty, and Columbus Junction. 

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At the same time yesterday, Escucha Mi Voz members in West Liberty began processing the city’s new American Rescue Plan-funded utility relief program, where eligible city residents can receive a $400 credit to their electric, water, or internet bills. The program was designed and passed by the West Liberty city council late last year after excluded workers spent over a year standing up and speaking out for the direct cash payments.

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“Seventy-six applied in West Liberty for utility assistance yesterday,” Father Guillermo Trevino, Jr. confirmed. Utility relief application clinics at St. Joseph Catholic Church will continue tonight, Thursday, and Friday from 5-9pm in the parish community center.

The $700 million Farm and Food Worker Relief program was contracted by USDA to a handful of national organizations like the United Farm Workers Union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union International (UFCW), and Catholic Charities USA.

Catholic Charities USA received nearly $10 million to administer the program and sub-awarded Escucha Mi Voz Iowa $1.357 million to identify and distribute aid to 1,800 eligible workers in un-unionized plants in Columbus Junction, West Liberty, and farmworkers in Washington County. 

Eligible farm and food workers who worked at least one day since January 27, 2020 in a qualified industry can apply for a direct cash payment of $600.

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