PAJARO — In his pledge to aid the hundreds of families who have been evacuated from the farm town of Pajaro in Monterey County after recent floods, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that $42 million would be made available to help those impacted by flooding through the United Way — but the aid organization said the correct amount currently available is just over $300,000.
United Way of Monterey County Director Katy Castagna said Gov. Newsom may have “conflated” the $42 million in the statewide United Ways of California COVID relief fund with the smaller, local allocation of $300,000 given to Monterey County out of that fund, inadvertently adding to the miscommunication and confusion many Pajaro residents are growing frustrated with.
Governor’s office spokesman Alex Stack said in a statement that “while in Pajaro, the Governor highlighted economic relief for farm and food workers that is being distributed in real-time to storm-impacted communities, raising awareness of the availability of this assistance regardless of immigration status. The administration is also pursuing additional supports for individuals recovering from January storms who are ineligible for FEMA assistance due to immigration status.”
On his trip to survey storm damage, Newsom said farmworkers affected by the flooding can get $600 checks from a $42 million program announced in October through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide economic relief to farmworkers and their families. Newsom said “I want folks to know… March 15, United Way was able to get $42 million from USDA and they’re starting to send out $600 checks for farmworkers regardless of their immigration status.”
But Castagna said the $42 million fund is actually part of a statewide grant from the USDA made in March 2020 that will be distributed across 15 different local United Way branches to help farmworker families who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the qualifications broad enough so farmers impacted by flooding can also receive the aid.
“It’s easy to confuse the two,” Castagna said. “You see federal money coming to farmworkers and the original intent was to alleviate COVID impact. There’s going to be an overlapping need for those who were displaced by the flood, but that’s part of the confusion is people combining the two. What it trickles down to our piece of it is in the neighborhood of $300,000.”
Castagna said that “in the excitement of ‘what are we going to do here?’ it kind of got conflated; something easy to misinterpret.”
“He was using a real resource but conflating it with the localized portion,” Castagna said.
For Jorge Luis Granados, 33, who grew up in Pajaro and started working on strawberry fields at the age of 13, the miscommunication between agencies is just causing more frustration among residents. Since the flood, dozens of Pajaro evacuees have gathered on the Main Street bridge in Watsonville to plead with police to let them through to their homes. He said people are getting angrier because “they’re not being acknowledged” and there isn’t a good enough effort to give updates and information to evacuees.
“There is a deep miscommunication issue, and these are people who propel our economy,” Granados said. “It makes me feel like they’re being treated unfairly and I know things cant be changed from one day to the next but we can address the miscommunication issue at least.”