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California Aims to Provide Coronavirus Relief to Undocumented Immigrants Left Out of Federal Aid

Nicole Rojas
May 21, 2020 - 11:00

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Undocumented immigrants living in California are now able to apply for the taxpayer-funded coronavirus relief program. These immigrants are unable to access unemployment assistance and were excluded from federal relief programs, such as the $1,200 stimulus checks sent to millions of Americans. 

California is providing $125 million in funding to its more than 2 million undocumented immigrants who have been shut out from any government assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. The relief fund was established through a public-private partnership that sees the state contributing $75 million and private philanthropic partners contributing $50 million, according to The Orange County Register

The application process, which began on May 18, will run through June 30 or until the funding is exhausted. The program provides a $500 one-time payment per adult, with a maximum of $1,000 per household. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, undocumented, be ineligible for federal COVID-19 relief and have experienced a virus-related hardship. 

“California is the most diverse state in the nation. Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient. Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement when announcing the funding in April. “We are all in this together.” 

Newsom noted that an estimated 10 percent of California’s workforce is undocumented. These Californians paid more than $2.5 billion in local and state taxes last year, but are ineligible for unemployment benefits or the $2.2. trillion federal stimulus package. 

Undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for the COVID-19 federal relief or state safety-net programs can apply for cash assistance from the California Immigrant Resilience Fund. This fund was established by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, which aims to raise $50 million in funding. 

The UC Merced Community and Labor Center recently released a study that found that some 289,000 undocumented immigrants living in California had become unemployed, according to The Los Angeles Times. California’s state funding program will only provide emergency assistance to 150,000 undocumented immigrants. 

Issues With Launch

The organizations tasked with distributing the state funding reported being overwhelmed by calls from undocumented adults hoping to apply. All applications are conducted over the phone to avoid dangerous in-person contact. 

“We knew the number of applicants would be high, but we were just overwhelmed,” Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, told The New York Times. The nonprofit was inundated with more than 600,000 calls within the first 90 minutes of their hotline being opened.

Meanwhile, efforts to meet the $50-million private funding goal have reportedly fallen short. In order to supplement that, some state lawmakers have called for an expansion of the state program, the LA Times reported. 

“Phone lines and websites across the state crashed due to the volume of calls and inquiries,” state Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) told the LA Times. “These undocumented residents, who comprise as much as 10 percent of the state workforce, are hurting for any type of assistance, being that they do not qualify for state unemployment or federal stimulus money.” 

How to Apply

The $75 million in state relief funding is being distributed by 12 nonprofit organizations across California. The state recommends that undocumented adults who are interested in applying reach out to the organization for their county directly to ask about assistance availability. 

The organizations chosen to distribute the funds are: California Human Development Corporation, Catholic Charities of California, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Community Action Board Santa Cruz, United Farm Workers Foundation (UFWF), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), San Bernardino Community Service Center, TODEC Legal Center Perris and the Jewish Family Service of San Diego. 

According to the fund’s official website, the nonprofit organizations are tasked with confirming an individual’s eligibility, assistance with the application process and the delivery of a payment card to applicants who are approved. Applicants will be considered on a first come, first served basis. 

For information on the California Immigrant Resilience Fund established by the GCIR, click here.

What Are Other States Doing to Help Undocumented Immigrants

California stands alone in providing direct assistance to its undocumented population. However, several organizations throughout the country have stepped up to help give financial aid to those hardest hit by the pandemic. 

The NationalUndocuFund was created by United We Dream to raise and distribute funds to immigrants who need it most. As of May 21, more than 300 people had applied to the NationalUndocuFund, forcing it to stop accepting applications. The fund says that if and when it is able to raise more funds, it will help additional people. 

Similar UndocuFunds have opened up around the country. In Massachusetts, a coalition of immigration organizations teamed up to create the Massachusetts UndocuFund, which gives applicants $300. 

Lily Huang, co-executive director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, told The North Star that the fund was inspired by an initiative by the North Bay Jobs with Justice in California. Huang’s organization joined forces with the Matahari Women Workers’ Center and One Fair Wage to launch the initiative in the Bay State. 

“We wanted to create a kind of catch all for folks who wouldn’t qualify for unemployment or qualify for the funds that national organizations have,” she said in April. 

Earlier in May, House Democrats passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. 

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At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to 188 countries. More than 5.02 million people around the world have become infected and more than 328,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. 

President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. The U.S. now has 1.55 million confirmed cases and more than 93,000 deaths. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine. 

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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