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Hispanics worry about recovering from COVID-19's economic impact

Zoila Mazariego, of Riverhead, worked at a duck

Zoila Mazariego, of Riverhead, worked at a duck factory for 10 years, but the coronavirus outbreak has put her out of work and she has sought help to file for unemployment benefits. "I get worried because I'm not making money," she said.    Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Some Hispanics on Long Island who work in restaurants, salons, hospitality and other service industries hard hit by closures mandated to help fight the spread of COVID-19 are worried, as are their advocates, that they will face the most economic harm from the deadly outbreak.

Hispanics and Latinos — who total nearly 527,000 on Long Island, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2018 — make up large portions of the workforce in landscaping, beauty salons and restaurants, 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

Their ranks include Jessica Flores of Westbury, a former receptionist at a beauty salon with locations in Bellmore and Syosset. Flores, 30, said she worked at both locations for nearly two years. But days ago she joined the ranks of the unemployed after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deemed salons and other businesses nonessential and ordered them to close their doors effective the evening of March 22.

“I’ve been working ever since I was 15, so this is like the first time I’ve had to stop working for a certain period of time,” Flores said, adding that her time is spent either working, spending time with her four children or with her sisters. “I don’t know how long this is going to last.”

Flores said she doesn’t worry about finding work because she is bilingual. But she does worry about herself or her children contracting the virus.

“Unless we’re missing something and I need to go to the supermarket, I don’t leave my house,” Flores said. “Not going anywhere is weird.”

George Siberón, executive director of the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, said his agency works with many Hispanics in the community, some of whom he said work in service industry jobs and are thinking about their next move. 

“How is it that they are going to earn money if the restaurants are closed, if the people go to clean houses can’t clean those houses anymore because others don’t have funds, or cut the grass or any other type of work that our community particularly does,” Siberón said. “I believe that we are going to be the hardest hit economically in all of Long Island.” 

‘It’s affecting everything about their lives’

Last week, a record 3.3 million workers filed for unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department. The previous high was 695,000 jobless claim filings in October 1982.

Zoila Mazariego, 55, of Riverhead, has worked at a duck factory for 10 years, four days a week. Mazariego said Thursday that she found herself seeking help to file for unemployment benefits after learning the factory would be closed for a month because many of the restaurants they sell too have closed amid the outbreak. 

“The bills are not being paid and they keep coming,” Mazariego said in Spanish. “I get worried because I’m not making money.” 

Sister Margaret Smyth, a nun at North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead, which offers services to Spanish-speaking immigrants, said she planned to help Mazariego navigate her unemployment filing. Smyth said people have come to her for the first time since the pandemic started.

“One thing in the Hispanic community, they’ve always tried to be as independent as possible, taking care of their own expenses and needs,” Smyth said. “Now all of the sudden, that’s not working because they’re not working. So without an income coming, it’s affecting everything about their lives and it affects double because many of them support families back in their country in addition to supporting their families here.” 

Suffolk County Legis. Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) said he’s heard from constituents in his district, which has a heavy concentration of Hispanics. 

“At the end of the day, the ones that are affected work two or three jobs, and they’re going to say to themselves, ‘Am I going to catch this thing or am I going to feed my family?’ ” Gonzalez said. “Them not getting paid for one day hurts them bad. Imagine for weeks on end.”

Gonzalez said he doesn't think the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law Friday, which would provide one-time direct payments to many Americans,will benefit people living in the country illegally. 

“They’re valuable when they’re servicing you, but when it hits the fan you’re not going to be able to provide for them and I’m having a problem with that,” Gonzalez said. “They should have all the benefits that anybody else has, especially during this pandemic.”

Mazariego said she would welcome help. She supports her 14-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Paoleno. He was a landscaper before being hospitalized nine months ago after developing complications following surgery to remove a tumor in his esophagus.

“In my house, I’m the only one who works,” Mazariego said. “I’m praying to God that he helps us as well.”