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Many Domestic Workers Rely on Generosity After Losing Jobs During Pandemic

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Many domestic workers such as nannies are relying on the charity of their employers during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. (Getty Images)

There are about 300,000 domestic workers in California, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Many of the people who hire them — workers such as house cleaners and nannies — are canceling appointments indefinitely due to statewide shelter-in-place orders, leaving workers with no income in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Domestic workers do not have employee protections like paid sick leave. Many are also undocumented, so they cannot collect unemployment insurance even under the recent of expansion of those benefits through the federal coronavirus bill.

Many of these workers are now relying on the charity of their employers — and it's not clear how many will choose to continue paying, or how many are making income themselves anymore.

Overwhelmed by Kindness

A month ago, Rina Magar felt like her family was in a pretty good spot. Her three oldest kids had moved out of the family’s home in Hillsdale. Her husband was driving for Uber. He used to work at a warehouse but was laid off. Then drove a taxi. His Uber income wasn’t great. But she had a job as a nanny for a family she really liked. They were making enough money to get by.

Then the coronavirus hit.

Their 13-year-old son has asthma, so Magar and her husband were really concerned about bringing the disease home. The Uber rides were drying up anyway, so they decided her husband should stop driving so that they wouldn’t endanger their son. Magar and the family she nannys for also decided it wasn’t safe for her to come to the house anymore.

With neither of the two making income, they wouldn’t be able to survive for long. Magar didn’t know what they were going to do. When she realized this might last for more than a week or two, she started to get really nervous. They have no relatives here. No one to lean on for financial support.

Then the family Magar works for got in touch. They told her that they would keep paying her even though she couldn’t come to work.

Magar was overwhelmed by the kindness. She’d only been their nanny for two months. She tried to tell them that they shouldn’t pay her if she wasn’t working. But they insisted. Magar says it’s the first time in her life that she has taken money without working.

“I am hard working people,” she said. “I feel very awkward to take money, you know? But I have to pay my bills, and I can’t work. It isn’t fair right now, everyone needs money.”

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'We Are Responsible for the Welfare of Others'

Nathan Kauffman says he’s lucky that he and his wife can still work. He does communication about climate change impacts and his wife manages an internship program. Both of them can work at home, which they’re now doing, along with caretaking full time for their daughter, who’s nearly 2 years old.

Kauffman says it wasn’t even a question of whether they would keep paying their nanny. They couldn’t imagine leaving her out in the cold. For two years, she has been part of their family and now she can’t work through no fault of her own. He said as long as they keep getting a paycheck, she’ll keep getting a paycheck.

“We’ve got to recognize that we are responsible for the welfare of others, Kauffman said, “And in doing that, we’ll help ourselves. We’re all — it’s cliche, but it's true — that we’re all in this together. If you're someone who has the ability to work from home and take care of your child too, then you should do that and keep paying your nanny.”

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Amy She agrees. She and her partner live in Los Angeles. She works in financial services and her partner is a software developer.

“My whole philosophy during this time is just that we are in a good position, we’re really, really fortunate,” She said, “so to the extent that we can, we want to make sure to pass it forward.”

She said lots of people just canceled on the house cleaner that they use. They decided to keep paying as long as they could. But with a crisis this large, She said individual acts of charity can only go so far.

“If we’re trying to make a big impact across communities and in our state,” She said, “we’re definitely going to need additional help from our leaders and those in power.”

While workers wait for help from the government, the National Domestic Workers Alliance is also working on legislation that would get domestic workers covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It is also providing disaster relief funding to out-of-work house cleaners and child care providers.

Find information on receiving disaster relief funds and how to help at the National Domestic Workers Alliance website.

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