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Established in July 2020 in collaboration with Supervisor Hillary Ronen, Right to Recover is administered through the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD). Since then, the City has directed $4.5 million to the program, which has served approximately 3,200 San Franciscans to date. Another $400,000 in private donations has been pledged and is expected to be available to the program later this week. This new investment of $6 million brings the total commitment to the program to $10.9 million.
"We have seen clearly that those most vulnerable to COVID-19 are those that are not able to work from home and cannot afford to miss a paycheck," said Mayor Breed. "Forcing people to choose between putting food on the table and protecting public health is not a fair choice. Right to Recover offers them the resources that they need in order to take care of themselves and keep their family and community safe and healthy. I want to thank our Labor partners for working with us to ensure that we're supporting the unique healthcare needs of workers during this pandemic, which we all know is so vital to the health and safety of working people and our entire city."
Right to Recover was implemented to offer a safety net for people that face financial hardship as a result of isolating following a positive test result. It aims to protect public health and ensure that a lack of financial resources does not deter anyone from getting tested and isolating.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color in San Francisco, California, and across the United States. In San Francisco, Latinos make up 43% of reported cases of COVID-19 even though they make up just 15% of the city's population. Many Latino, African American, Asian, immigrant and low-income communities in San Francisco are further disadvantaged by the fact that they do not qualify for Federal relief efforts, unemployment insurance, or loan programs. Prior to the global outbreak of COVID-19, rates of chronic illness, poor housing conditions, and low wages were already concentrated in these groups and the virus has disproportionately impacted these communities as well.
"The surge has had a particularly devastating effect on Latinx and immigrant communities in my district and around the City," said Supervisor Ronen. "Over the New Year's weekend alone, we had over 460 referrals to Right to Recover and have averaged about a 100 every day since then. The need is clear and present. Medical Reimbursement Accounts were specifically designed to help workers meet their healthcare expenses, so I want to thank the Mayor for making the funds available for those eligible workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19. The City must commit itself to explore all avenues of funding to ensure all workers can safely quarantine at home, without the fear of further economic hardship."
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The Right to Recover Program offers one-time financial support of $1,285 to those who need monetary resources in order to isolate. To date, the program has been funded with private philanthropic dollars through Give2SF. The program funds are expected to be exhausted this month, in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 cases that threatens the Bay Area and much of California's ICU capacity and has required San Francisco and most of the state to follow a strict Stay at Home order.
In order to stretch the remaining resources to the fullest extent and support as many people as possible, Mayor Breed issued a Mayoral Order to allow the City to allocate $6 million from deactivated Medical Reimbursement Accounts (MRAs) created through the Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO). These funds will only be available to pay for Right to Recover participants that have worked for an employer who has paid into the City Option MRA program, which includes many restaurants as well as retail, accommodation, and other service-sector employers. Right to Recover referrals who have not worked for a participating employer will receive assistance through the remaining private funds and the City continues to look for additional sources of philanthropic or private funding.
"As vaccine distribution continues ramping up in the days and weeks ahead, it is vital that we continue to prioritize support for our most vulnerable residents, many of whom are low wage workers," said Joaquin Torres, Director of San Francisco's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "By providing financial resources to those for whom quarantining presents significant financial hardship, Right to Recover funds encourage all San Franciscans to keep getting tested and to isolate whenever necessary without fear of being unable to pay their bills. These resources help to ensure our community moves forward together towards a fuller, more equitable recovery."
The City's Right to Recover program works hand-in-hand with the City's contact tracing efforts. Through contact tracing, when a person tests positive for COVID-19, the Department of Public Health (DPH) conducts an interview with that person. During the interview, DPH will ask if they need financial support in order to isolate. If they do, contact tracers will refer the individual to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and its community partners, Mission Economic Development Agency and Young Community Developers for Right to Recover intake and share information about other wraparound services to support residents around food security, housing assistance, and workforce services. Supervisor Hillary Ronen's office, OEWD, and community partners have been closely monitoring accessibility and distribution of the funds and are now able to make money available within two to three days after diagnosis.
The Right to Recover program is designed to provide relief to individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and lack access to financial benefits such as unemployment insurance, paid sick leave or other benefits, for reasons including immigration status or lack of sufficient work history. The organizations conducting the intake for referrals to the program offer a comprehensive and culturally competent assessment as well as supporting individuals to access additional services.
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During this assessment, participants are screened for their financial need and asked about their employment. Once a person's participation in the program is confirmed, organizations send the participant a $1,285.60 debit card. For those participants employed by businesses that contributed to the City Option, these funds will come from deactivated MRA accounts. DPH and community partners do not ask about citizenship or immigration status in the contact tracing interview or the Right to Recover assessment.
"The Right to Recover is a very innovative City program that was born out of the first UCSF partnership study with the Latino Task Force," said Valerie Tulier-Lawia, a coordinator with the Latino Task Force. "We realized immediately how important this funding was to support essential workers who tested positive and would not have access to traditional paid leave, sick pay, or vacation pay in order to isolate themselves without experiencing the financial hardship that this pandemic has burdened our community with. The City's effort to expand the Right to Recover is welcomed and so necessary."
"Ongoing efforts such as Unidos en Salud, a partnership between UCSF, the Latino Task Force, the SF DPH and the Chan-Zuckerberg BioHub since April of last year have brought low barrier Rapid Test and Response to our most vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19," said Dr. Diane Havlir, infectious disease expert and co-founder of UCSF's Unidos en Salud. "Key to the response is giving people who test positive the means to not only recover from their illness but also fulfill their responsibility to self-isolate and stop the chain of transmission. The Right to Recover is an essential part of the City's COVID strategy."
The HCSO is a San Francisco law that established several employer health care-related obligations enforced by the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Under HCSO, businesses with 20 or more employees and nonprofits with 50 or more employees in San Francisco make health care expenditures including contributions to MRAs, which their employees can access for eligible medical expenses. The MRAs are normally designated for medical expenses and health care needs, however during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to provide people with additional resources so they can afford necessities to get healthy and protect public health.
"The San Francisco Labor Council supports the Right to Recover program. It is vitally important that workers who test positive for COVID-19 are able to shelter in place without having to worry about their employment and the loss of pay. The direct support this legislation will provide to working people will allow them to recover as well as slow the spread of this deadly virus in our community," said Kim Tavaglione, Interim Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council.
"The Right to Recover program has been a tremendous help to my family," said Angelica Rodriguez, a SoMa resident and Right to Recover recipient. "Two of my adult children and I were diagnosed with COVID and I was hospitalized for my symptoms. The day after I got out of the hospital, I found out that I temporarily lost my job. The following week, my kids and I received financial assistance that allowed us to recover and pay our bills without financial stress. We are so grateful!"
For more information on the Right to Recover program, call the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) Workforce Hotline at (415) 701-4817 where representatives are available Monday through Friday to answer calls in multiple languages, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, people can also check oewd.org/covid19/workers to learn more or call 311.
The City's relief programs are made possible from the Give2SF COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. In March, Mayor Breed announced three priority areas for the Give2SF Fund: food security, access to housing, and support for workers and small businesses, with a focus on assisting undocumented people and mixed-status households who otherwise may not have access to social safety net programs; seniors and people with disabilities; and small businesses. To donate to Give2SF, go to www.Give2SF.org.
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