Riverside County is rolling out a new program to keep Coachella Valley farm workers and their families safe from coronavirus.
Temporary housing will be provided, including hotel and motel rooms, for farmworkers who have been exposed to or tested positive with the virus if they can't self-isolate at home.
"We're celebrating right now because Riverside County makes history again, really stepping up for our farm worker community," said Luz Gallegos, community programs director for TODEC Legal Center. Her organization is partnering with the city to provide outreach and coordinate the services.
Farmworkers, considered essential, are highly vulnerable to coronavirus due to the nature of their work in the fields.
"Whatever fruit or veggie they're picking, there's no space for social distancing," Gallegos said.
Once the farm workers leave for the day, many return to mobile home parks where quarters are tight. Often, several family members live there – making it unsuitable to self-isolate.
"They cannot afford to pay rent at another location so they go back home and they're with their families," Gallegos said.
Already more than 2,000 farmworkers have tested positive in Riverside County. And county officials said there are likely many more undetected positive cases.
Supervisor Manuel Perez wrote in a statement, "The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on farmworkers throughout the State of California and in Riverside County. This is a much-needed program, and perhaps the first of its kind..."
The program will also provide financial assistance to cover farmworkers' wages lost due to illness or quarantine – up to $2,000.
"This was something that was long overdue and we are so happy that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors listened," Gallegos said.
The program is expected to begin providing services next week. TODEC Legal Center will be the coordinating agency.