Village Exchange Center launches fund for low-wage workers unable to quarantine

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AURORA | After connecting residents to millions of dollars in assistance during the pandemic, the Village Exchange Center is poised to launch a cash fund with Adams County, this time for low-wage workers with COVID-19 who can’t afford to quarantine. 

The hub for immigrants and refugees in north Aurora is standing up a “low-wage worker fund” in the coming days. The initiative, which is only a pilot program so far, is seeded with $250,000 from Adams County and will only serve people in that county so far. Adams County includes all of Aurora north of East Colfax Avenue. 

A worker might qualify for the cash depending on their income and family size. For example, a single adult earning up to $1,415 per month would be eligible. That cap would increase to $2,904 for a family of four and $4,258 for a pregnant woman with a family of four. 

In the program’s first stage, people can’t apply directly for the help. The Tri-County Health Department and the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center will refer recipients to the program for the time being. 

Amanda Blaurock, the Village Exchange Center’s executive director, said many workers have been stuck in a catch-22 during the pandemic: after contracting COVID-19, many employees can’t afford to self-quarantine in lieu of employer-provided leave benefits that often aren’t offered to hourly and low-wage workers.

“We all see this as a health concern also, because if you can’t afford to quarantine, you are spreading the disease,” Blaurock said.

Adams County said in a statement that officials are “grateful for the partnership with the Village Exchange Center to help those in our community who need it the most during this difficult time.”

Some Aurora’s lowest-income neighborhoods are located north of East Colfax Avenue in Adams County. 

The average household income in the Village Exchange Center’s own census track, at the intersection of East 16th Avenue and Havana Street, is $32,500 per year, according to city data. 

The Village Exchange Center will distribute Adams County’s contributions. Blaurock said the goal is to tell applicants whether they’ll receive the help within a day. That way, they can quickly make the decision not to go to work and prevent spreading the virus. 

“You lose the point if you don’t let them know pretty quickly,” she said.

The effort will be aided by eight “natural helpers.” They’re representatives from local immigrant and refugee communities trained at the VEC to connect residents to resources like the cash assistance.

Blaurock said the goal is to attract more funding and expand the cash program outside of Adams County.

The low-wage worker fund is the latest cash assistance program at the VEC. The organization has been connecting undocumented and other residents typically left out of safety net benefits to grants through the statewide Left Behind Workers Fund. 

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