The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 22, 2020 1:00 am

State must help more, forum panelists say

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

For 20 years, Ana Karen Gonzales and her family made their living working in restaurants in Fort Wayne. 

The hardworking immigrant family that included her mother, father and brother made enough to cover rent, utilities and other expenses, but in March they all lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. 

The family found themselves without income and shut out from relief including unemployment and the federal government's stimulus checks, even though they pay U.S. taxes through a tax identification number. 

Gonzales was one of about a dozen panelists Thursday evening who appeared in a virtual meeting hosted by Faith In Indiana on both Zoom and Facebook Live. 

The #WHOCARESFORUS Digital Town Hall featuring Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett called on Gov. Eric Holcomb and state legislators to end disparities in testing by setting up no-cost testing sites and contact tracing programs “in the hardest-hit ZIP codes, as Indianapolis has already done,” a release stated. They also asked for relief for the hardest-hit people in the state. 

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry was on the list of speakers but had to cancel at the last minute, the organizers said. 

Chief Condra Ridley, a leader in Faith in Allen County, made an appearance, as did Paula Avila, a member of Faith in Allen County and the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana. 

Ridley asked the estimated 300 to 400 people who participated in the forum to send an email provided to each participant to Holcomb, while Avila urged people to “pray, organize and vote.”

The group is asking state and local leaders to care for the people in more ways than providing free testing sites in lower-income areas, such as the temporary testing site set up at the Public Safety Academy off U.S. 27. In Allen County, there are about 10 testing sites. Most require a state ID, but the Neighborhood Health Clinic on Paulding Road does not. 

Group objectives include hiring an “army” of contact tracers from the communities where they live and to start with black and immigrant communities hardest hit by the virus. Communities of color are more than twice as likely to suffer from the virus as predominantly white communities, said state Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, who is also the ranking minority member on the Public Health Committee. 

Shackleford advocates for no-cost treatment for COVID-19, achieved by raising the income threshold on state Medicaid programs from 128% to 400% of the poverty index. 

She also wants to see paid family leave, especially for essential workers, hazard pay and funding for local governments.

Faith in Indiana wants earned sick time and paid family and medical leave. 

Shackleford said one positive is the creation of a legislative task force on disparity that was tasked with drafting a plan by the end of June to address inequity in the treatment of inmates and prisoners, the uninsured, the undocumented and ages 65 and older, among other groups. 

“Advocacy works. When you are talking to state officials, get those letters to the governor. That is when change happens,” Shackleford said. 

Melanie Moore, a Faith in Indiana activist, said the state is in a financial position to aid local communities in this pandemic with a $2.3 billion state surplus and $2.6 billion from the federal CARES Act “and more on the way.” 

For Gonzales and her family, who are members of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, aid would mean the difference between survival and devastation. 

“I can't tell you how strange it (was) to me to deliver $100 bottles of wine to wealthy doctors, lawyers and officials in town (then) the next day, we were told we were being let go,” Gonzales said. 

“Gov. Holcomb says that we are all in this together and for my family and thousands of mixed-status (families) in the state, we need that to be more than a slogan.”

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