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Chinatown/L.E.S. coalition: Workers, merchants need emergency aid

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Saying they’re concerned the city will use the coronavirus pandemic to further displace small businesses and working people, an activist coalition is urging government to take swift action to help these groups.

At a press conference Friday at the Chinese Staff & Workers Association, at 345 Grand St., the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side called for emergency relief for the community.

Coalition members said the health crisis is wreaking havoc on the community and small businesses, which already were facing a crisis of displacement due to what coalition members decried as “the city’s racism.”

Before the virus outbreak, small businesses had been shuttering or cutting workers’ hours to deal with rising rents — but now merchants are facing even more rapid closures and workers are looking at a greater loss of hours, if not the complete loss of their jobs.

Following Governor Cuomo’s announcement on Thursday banning gatherings of 500 people, Jing Fong — the city’s largest Chinese restaurant, with 800 seats — announced it would be closing.

Claudio Leo, the Elizabeth St.’s dim sum palace’s marketing director told the New York Post, “We will reopen when everything passes. Honestly we have no idea when. Maybe when there is a vaccine and a cure but there is no light at the end of this tunnel right now.”

Low-wage workers will suffer if they can’t work amid the coronavirus outbreak, plus self-quarantining in their often overcrowded apartments would not be realistic, the coalition members said.

Coalition members noted that many workers living paycheck to paycheck can’t afford to stay home and lose wages. Additionally, living in crowded conditions — as many do in Chinatown and the Lower East Side — makes self-quarantining impossible, they said.

The coalition called for city and state government to:

  • Establish an emergency relief fund to   help workers — regardless of their immigration status — who are laid off or have their hours cut as a result of the economic impact of the virus, and help workers easily obtain unemployment benefits;
  • Immediately lower real estate taxes and rents for affected businesses;
  • Establish an emergency relief fund to help workers for lost wages when they test positive for the COVID-19 and need to be quarantined, regardless of their immigration status;
  • Establish medical facilities that can be easily accessed by patients to get tested and receive necessary treatment quickly and be quarantined if necessary, instead of self-quarantining.
  • Demand that the president issue a major disaster declaration in order to establish federal assistance programs for unemployment, legal services and hazard mitigation to prevent long-term risks to health and safety.

On Friday, President Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal funding to combat coronavirus.

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