EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Latinos have been hit hard by COVID-19 related layoffs and business closings across the country, yet many are being excluded from stimulus payments and forgivable small-business loans, Hispanic organizations say.

Moreover, those who still have a job harvesting food and vegetables, packing meat and cooking to-go meals in restaurant chains are often not provided personal protective equipment or work in crowded conditions — exposed to catching the virus and spreading it to their families at home, organization leaders say. These workers face a daily choice of exposing themselves and their loved ones to COVID-19 or being left without a paycheck.

Domingo Garcia, national president of LULAC

“They are frontline heroes, but they are not being treated as essential workers, and that is something that needs to change immediately,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “One of the things this is showing is health care inequities and how the way the government treats us needs to be rectified.”

According to an April 3 study by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Latinos in the U.S. have either been laid off or taken pay cuts since the coronavirus outbreak, compared to 33 percent of the general population.

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

Many Latinos work in factories, restaurants, hotels and service industries that have all but shut down due to a drop in demand or local stay-at-home orders, some Hispanic leaders say. But even 37% of Latinos who are college graduates and 52% with some college education have been affected, according to Pew.

That may be because they own small businesses, and right now half of Hispanic-owned enterprises are idle and 1 in 4 may never reopen, said Ramiro A. Cavazos, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“These are self-employed, fragile businesses with 27 days of working capital on average,” Cavazos said Wednesday at an online town forum sponsored by LULAC. “Only half of them have a formal relationship with banks. The rest are in trouble trying to figure out how to pay the rent […] the rest need lending that is forgivable or we could easily lose one out of every four businesses, plus one in two would remain closed” for an extended period of time.

Cavazos and Garcia said mom-and-pop Latino businesses are lacking clarity in many communities about how to apply for forgivable loans and that information isn’t always available to them in Spanish.

“We’re getting down to our taquerias, the people who put up weddings and quinceañeras. All of that has a ripple effect in our economy” Garcia said.

He added that thousands of essential workers also missed out on the individual stimulus checks due to immigration status. LULAC is working with legislators such as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, to make sure they’re included in the next congressionally approved stimulus.

Castro noted that many American industries wouldn’t exist without immigrant labor “including undocumented labor” and that one of the priorities of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus he represents is to “push for every worker in American society to benefit from any relief package we pass.”

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