An excluded worker organizer speaks with a Johnson County government staff member at the Johnson County Administration Building on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Johnson County advocates feel misled by the local government’s new pandemic relief program.
In a closely divided vote last month, the Board of Overseers approved $2 million in federal COVID-19 funds to go toward a lottery system for residents who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Iowa City plans to contribute an additional $1.5 million to the effort. He needs help, but that’s very different from what we understood to be the goal of the program.
The idea of using a portion of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation for direct cash assistance was put on the local agenda by undocumented migrant workers and their allies, led by the local organizations Escucha Mi Vo and Iowa City Catholic Worker House.
When the federal government sent a series of three stimulus payments to individuals in 2020 and 2021, undocumented and incarcerated people were not included. Throughout months of discussion, the Johnson County relief fund was touted as a way to fill a portion of federal stimulus checks that some local residents were ineligible for. It is commonly referred to as the excluded worker fund.
That’s how we thought it would work when we welcomed the proposal in an editorial published last October. “Excluded workers are contributing members of our local communities and it made no sense for the federal government to exclude them from cash payments,” The Gazette’s editorial board wrote at the time.
Instead, payments will be open to a much wider subset of the local population and distributed through a random lottery system under a program approved by three of the five supervisors at a recent meeting – some eligible candidates will receive $1,400 and others will receive nothing.
Two supervisors – Jon Green and Rod Sullivan – pushed to prioritize residents who had not received previous relief payments, in the original spirit of the excluded worker fund. County staff and the majority of council members favored a lottery with broader eligibility. A few of them wondered if every excluded worker had really suffered a pandemic ordeal.
Federal Reserve analysts agree that stimulus payments have contributed to inflation. When everyone else in the local economy has received thousands of dollars in additional purchasing power from the government and you haven’t, it’s pretty obvious that you’ve been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Johnson County officials had the authority to put excluded workers in front of the line and they chose not to. Instead, they will leave it to chance.
(319) 398-8262; [email protected]