In addition to improved unemployment benefits, $ 600 stimulus checks, and the extension of the eviction moratorium, Congress’ latest $ 900 billion coronavirus stimulus bill contained some unrelated surprises. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state hosts the Kentucky Derby, added a last minute driver called the Integrity and Safety Act for Horse Racing. The law would improve the welfare of thoroughbred horses by ending the drug abuse that often leads to horse injuries and death. Also congress expanded Tax breaks for the racehorse industry that would allow all racehorses to be classified as depreciable property over three years, resulting in tax write-offs of up to $ 500,000.
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Yet, despite Congressional concerns for the welfare of thoroughbred horses, they have all but ignored the plight of the frontline workers responsible for training and caring for them. You’ve spent months facing the coronavirus with little financial or public health support. Backstretch workers are mostly immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many live with other workers on site, often in pairs in a room in which the kitchen and bathroom are shared. But many of the workers who look after these precious animals live on low wages, even though the whole-blood industry is more than in New York State alone, where the famous Belmont Park is located $ 2 billion in annual sales. And when COVID-19 hit, they weren’t ready yet.
Since immigrating from Chile in 2002, Caroline Klicey has spent most of the time in America with Belmont. A keen hiker, she went for morning walks with thoroughbred racehorses every morning to stretch her tense muscles before a race. The work is demanding and the salary is low, but on top of her husband’s income, the $ 450 a week she makes is enough to comfortably raise her four children.
The route is also more than just a place to work; it has become their community. Most of Klicey’s friends are also backstretching workers, she met her husband on the track, and her children often spend time on the track after school and on weekends. Before the pandemic, she found it difficult to imagine life off the back straight.
“Everyone who works here is like family. We get on well with each other. In the morning, greet everyone with a smile. It’s a nice thing to work there. “
But when the pandemic forced New York in the interim turn down the live race last March, many back-stretching workers like Klicey, who were very comfortable in their “recession-proof” jobs, suddenly found themselves unemployed and in pantry lines.
“It was really difficult for us at first. My husband was released for a few months and I had to stay home with my children. We lived on our savings, but it was difficult to get food, but thank God for the pantry we made it through. “
As the pandemic spread like wildfire across the New York City area, Belmont’s backstretch community emerged as a ticking time bomb. About 800 people are employed at Belmonts Backstretch, with nearly 600 workers living in dormitories on the property where the cramped quarters have created the perfect environment for the virus to spread. At the height of the virus, between March and April, 100 backstretch workers were infected.
In response, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) exposed all races on all tracks in New York state in March until the virus could be contained. Joe Appelbaum, President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen Association (NYTHA), an organization that represents horse owners and trainers, faced the unprecedented challenge of mitigating a potential public health disaster and protecting animal welfare.
“We were faced with a very difficult challenge because it’s not like dorms where you just close the doors and send everyone home,” he said. “These are the houses of these types, or their permanent residences could be in Mexico or Guatemala. You also had a horse that needed to be looked after. “
In return, we always take care of ourselves.
Although racing was temporarily suspended, some supine workers were retained as caring for the animals was considered an essential service. But with no races planned, workers like Klicey preparing horses for races were left completely out of work. For those who were still employed, many had subsidized their wages with part-time jobs along the way, such as concessions. With live races suspended and many unable to receive payments for economic reconstruction due to their immigrant status, these workers were forced to find other ways to make a living.
Karen Chavez, general manager of NY Race Track Chaplaincy, which provides services to the backstretch community, saw a surge in demand for their services. Chavez saw firsthand the toll the pandemic was taking.
“When racing was temporarily canceled, it was financially difficult for many families,” she said. “We have seen many men and women with panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Our pantry services grew from 60 families to 360 families in just a few weeks. “
NYRA has been able to contain the virus since last April and there are currently no new cases in backstretch workers. Still, they don’t take any chances.
“NYRA follows all guidelines from the New York State Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control regarding social distancing,” said Patrick McKenna, director of communications for NYRA. “Face covers are mandatory for everyone on the property.”
Mostly under control with the virus, in June, Racing resumed across New York State, albeit with no crowds in the stands. Another minor was at the horse race Resurgence in popularity. Since the pandemic initially brought most professional sports to a standstill, many players, like in the NBA, have opted for it Optical output, Horse racing could fill the void. Races resumed for the first five days, Belmont settled $ 76,264,891 in online betting, an 84 percent increase from last year. On the opening day in June, Belmont set an opening day record of $ 10,972,254, surpassing the previous record of $ 10.7 million set in 2010.
Even so, with the money that came in, the army of low-wage immigrant workers continued to work behind the scenes with little public recognition. With owners enjoying government tax breaks and horses benefiting from increased safety regulations, workers continued to endure low wages, occupational risks, and wage theft without the added benefit of hazard compensation. However, many do not want to work elsewhere. Despite its weaknesses, backstretch offers an opportunity for a close-knit immigrant workforce that has few other options; like five million other important workers, many are undocumented.
Caroline Klicey proudly describes the intimate connections workers have made in isolation. When a worker gets sick, others bring him soup. If one has to borrow money, another helps quickly. Weddings, baptisms and quinceañeras are held regularly in the horse stables. In return, with workers from Central and South America, they form a living mosaic of cultures and thus create their own unique cultural identity. Granted, Klicey admits that the pandemic has brought challenges she never anticipated, but she insists that the culture of self-reliance encouraged in the opposite phase has enabled them to overcome them.
“In return, we always take care of ourselves.”