By Melody Mercado, Des Moines Register
Workers who did not receive federal pandemic relief money lined up Wednesday afternoon to ask the city of Des Moines to create an excluded workers fund with part of the $94.8 million the city will receive from the federal government.
“This is something dignified, fair and possible. Our families have grown up here in Des Moines, we love it here despite our immigration status,” said Alfonso Mendez, in a prepared statement translated by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
Mendez was one of three people who addressed city officials in favor of the excluded workers fund.
“We have suffered and struggled as much as everyone else,” said Oralia Martinez, in a prepared statement translated by Iowa CCI. Although many of us don’t have legal documents, we pay our fair share in taxes and contribute to the economy.”
Apart from the five million undocumented people who are part of the essential workforce nationwide, many are also work in sectors affected by pandemic-induced layoffs, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
These include jobs in restaurants, child care, cleaning services and construction. But unlike their counterparts with residency status, these workers were barred from federal aid programs such as the CARES Act, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and more.
Blanca Sossa, a Des Moines resident, told the Des Moines Register that her husband was one of the many restaurant workers laid off during the pandemic. During the early days of the pandemic in April and May 2020, the Sossa family struggled to keep up with bills.
“I couldn’t work during that time because I clean houses and people didn’t want others in their home…it was very hard,” Sossa said in an interview translated by the Register.
Members of the coalition are hoping to accomplish what has already been approved last month in Johnston County, where county supervisors approved using $2 million of it’s ARPA Funds for an excluded workers fund.
That program is expected to be making payouts by the beginning of next year, according to a report from CBS2 Iowa.
City Manager Scott Sanders acknowledged the request and said the city would consider the proposal.
“We know this is a significant issue for a number of workers in Des Moines and from what we heard from several of them at our forum, it’s certainly something we will want to look into,” Sanders said.
How does ARPA work?
The economic rescue plan, ARPA, provided millions to cities and counties, with several restrictions on how the money can be spent. Half of the money was made available in May, while the rest will be dispersed next year, according to the stipulation of the plan.
A strict limitation, according to USA Today, is that the money cannot be used to reduce taxes, add to rainy day funds, or pay for legal settlements or buttress pension funds.
For comparison, cities across the country are using dedicating its ARPA funding to addressing homelessness and affordable housing, lack of child care, employee incentive program for getting vaccinated and more.
In its presentation Wednesday afternoon, Des Moines city officials identified six possible categories for allocation of its ARPA funds including:
Social and environmental justice
The city of Des Moines has until Dec. 31, 2024 to decide where the nearly $95 million will be allocated and until Dec. 31, 2026 to exhaust the funds.
In the meantime, the city released a survey Wednesday asking for residents’ input on where to allocate its $95 million. The city will take responses through the end of March 2022.
Sanders, the city manager, told the Register that the city should have a “pretty clear” picture of where the ARPA funds will be going by mid-2022.
To access the city survey, visit https://bit.ly/326e8Bq
Melody Mercado covers Des Moines city government for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or Twitter @melodymercadotv.