SF educators pledge their stimulus checks to those in need

It was painfully clear that families with undocumented members wouldn’t see a dime of federal aid

As the federal government put the finishing touches on a record $2 trillion federal stimulus, it was painfully clear to educators that families with undocumented members wouldn’t see a dime.

Undocumented families, too, could use those $1,200 checks at an unprecedented time of economic standstill and during a shelter-in-place. Not only are they, too, out of work but they don’t qualify for unemployment benefits and are less likely to have labor protections to weather the sudden loss in income.

To lend a helping hand, United Educators of San Francisco began a pledge drive for members to promise a chunk — or all — of the check they would be receiving. At least 330 educators have pledged $105,000 and counting of their federal stimulus funds, said UESF President Susan Solomon.

“We have lots and lots of families and students in our schools who are undocumented who are as much a part of our education family as anyone else,” Solomon said. “At this time, we cannot depend on the federal government to treat people fairly.”

UESF isn’t collecting the money themselves but directing contributors to UndocuFund, which will disperse the donations to families in need of aid. It may later work in tandem with City efforts to bring aid to families in further need of aid.

Jael Castro, a fourth-grade teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann School in the Mission, knows firsthand the lack of aid for undocumented families. Her family didn’t qualify for any help during the 2007 financial crisis because of her parents’ legal status and they lost their house.

Today, she detects from unanswered messages to parents and absences from now-virtual classes that her students and their families are struggling with basic needs — despite saying that everything is fine.

“It shows that they’re trying to figure things out, they don’t even have the capacity for something else,” Castro said. “If the family is struggling economically, the child cannot learn.”

Due to a tax filing snafu, Jenny De La Paz and her husband, both recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are locked out of receiving any stimulus aid to benefit their three children. The family already spent their savings treating her rare blood disorder, and her husband is out of his regular flooring work.

The financial and health stakes are exponentially higher now, causing intense fear and worry that she can tell her kids have picked up about bills and contracting coronavirus by going outside. Her middle son calls to her in the night.

“My children feel it, my children hear it, my children see it,” said De La Paz, who added she feels like a burden. “I don’t want to eat food anymore because I don’t know if I’ll have it for them.”

Despite public signals from companies that payments would be flexible, De La Paz has still had to pay bills like her phone plan — essential for her kids staying connected to virtual classes. Meals provided by the San Francisco Unified School District have been a big help, as was the $450 in gift cards given to her by Coleman Advocates.

Hearing about educators, who just months ago were fighting layoffs due to a deficit before coronavirus, donating their funds is heartwarming to De La Paz.

“I remember crying the night before asking, “God, how am I going to do this?’” De La Paz said. “I don’t know how to help my family. So many people don’t know how to do tomorrow anymore.”

Supervisor Shamann Walton proposed a family relief fund to offer $500 a month to undocumented and low-income families who don’t qualify for state and federal assistance, also in response to gaps of assistance in the record $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The legislation has since folded into work under the Mayor’s Office and Human Rights Commission to dole out resources faster. By next week, they hope to disperse $6 million in aid to undocumented families and aim for it to happen on a consistent basis, according to Walton.

“It’s absolutely necessary,” Walton said. “Our job is to make sure that everyone negatively impacted by this crisis receives some form of relief. We will not leave anyone behind.”

California will contribute another $75 million in the form of a disaster relief fund, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. About 150,000 undocumented workers will receive $500, or up to $1,000 per household, but must apply beginning in May.

Philanthropic groups assembled by the Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, which is behind UndocuFund, will raise $50 million for more direct financial contributions statewide. The state has an estimated 2 million undocumented residents.

Food access is a top concern for undocumented and low-income families, said Coleman Advocates political director Kevine Boggess. Efforts like these offer comfort that they aren’t forgotten.

“Anyone who lives in San Francisco is always concerned about money and rent because it takes up so much of what you bring in,” Boggess said. “The response to the virus really shined a bright spotlight on these preexisting issues.”

For Castro, it represents yet another issue that educators have had to take into their own hands with the urgency of seeing issues firsthand. Her school, Buena Vista Horace Mann, hosts the first-of-its-kind shelter for homeless or housing-insecure families advocated by staff.

“Trying to find solutions to society’s problems is not the job description of a teacher,” Castro said. “We do this because of the neglect and lack of care from the state government and city government and federal government.”


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Food access is a top concern for undocumented and low-income families.(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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