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Cover Oregon's Outreach To Immigrants, Refugees Challenging


Cover Oregon’s outreach to refugee and immigrant communities has been a challenge.

In Northeast Portland earlier this month, about 10 people met in the conference room at IRCO headquarters — that’s the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.

Sokho Eath is an outreach worker for IRCO.

Sokho Eath is an outreach worker for IRCO.

Tess Freeman /OPB

Sokho Eath does outreach for IRCO. He held an information session with refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma. He has two interpreters on hand who translate his presentation into the Kachin language and then translate questions back into English.

Eath says the process is slow — but not just because of the language barrier.

“It’s a lot of work to bring in folks and organize, and a lot of them need transportation, so. You know, some of the organizers drive ‘em in,” Eath said.

IRCO has a $150,000 grant from Cover Oregon to reach out to immigrants and refugees. It’s enrollment goal for the year? Two hundred.

This may seem like a lot of money for that number — another program aimed at artists plans to sign up 8,000, using grants totaling about $300,000.

“Yeah, I mean, we’re not funding based on enrollment,” says Samantha Shepherd, outreach and enrollment strategist for Cover Oregon.

She says grant money for hard to reach populations is focused on strengthening outreach programs that will exist for years to come. And some communities are more difficult to reach than others.

“If you’re meeting with a Burmese family, they’re new here, need to build that relationship, you’re often not going to have them come to that first appointment, build trust, and get them all the way through the application process. So for a lot of our partners that are working with harder-to-reach populations, their work is harder.”

Rosa Rivera

Rosa Rivera

Tess Freeman/OPB

According to a research group providing data to Cover Oregon, there are more than 30,000 low-income, legal immigrants in Oregon who need insurance. These are uninsured adults — not children or the elderly — who are now compelled, by law, to get health coverage.

Rosa Rivera is an outreach worker at several clinics run by Virginia Garcia Medical Center.  At Tigard High School, she’s focused a on different segment of the immigrant population: mixed-status families.

Maria Moreno and her husband are undocumented residents. But their eight-year-old daughter is a U.S. citizen, and she doesn’t yet have health insurance. Rivera explains that the new health care law means they must get coverage for their daughter. This distresses Moreno.

“I don’t even know what to think,” she says. “It’s going to be hard for us — because we have to pay the rent and everything, and then we send money to our kids in Mexico for school. It’s difficult.”

Rivera tries to calm Moreno, “De acuerdo a los ingresos, todo se ve que la nina se lo van a dar…

“It looks like your daughter will qualify for free coverage,” she says. “So don’t worry! Go home relaxed — I don’t want you to leave here stressed.”

“Asi que no se preocupe! Vayase descansadita a su casa. No quiero quese vaya con la tension!”

After her appointment, Moreno tells me she’s worried about one other thing: she’s afraid immigration officials may be tipped off about her status when she applies for her daughter’s insurance.

But Rivera addresses this concern too.

She said it doesn’t have anything to do with this. It’s health insurance. So we’ll wait for the results.

Sam Shepherd, of Cover Oregon, says applicants are not required to give information about their immigration status when applying for children who are U.S. citizens.

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