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COVID-19

With no federal aid, undocumented immigrants look to states, philanthropy for support

Andy Uhler May 1, 2020
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Even though undocumented workers pay taxes, they're not eligible for federal public benefits. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

With no federal aid, undocumented immigrants look to states, philanthropy for support

Andy Uhler May 1, 2020
Even though undocumented workers pay taxes, they're not eligible for federal public benefits. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission are particularly vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Federal relief efforts are not reaching this population.

Ingrid Vaca isn’t a U.S. citizen and doesn’t have a green card. She lives in Virginia, and before COVID-19 hit, she was earning about $1,500 a month cleaning houses in the Washington, D.C., area. But the work has dried up and now she’s having to negotiate rent deferrals with her landlord.

“My living situation is pretty critical right now,” Vaca said in Spanish. “I’m receiving help from my friends and one nonprofit organization that is specifically worried about workers.”

Vaca’s getting $400 a month from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, but says that’s nowhere near what she needs to pay the bills. She’s getting nothing from the government. Vaca lives with her adult son, who is also out of work and doesn’t have legal status.

“I don’t want to cry anymore, but honestly the situation is really difficult right now,” Vaca said.

She doesn’t have a social security number. She only has an individual taxpayer identification number. So even though she paid taxes when she was working, she’s not eligible for any federal public benefits.

“At the federal level what we are pushing is that the ITIN, or the individual taxpayer identification number, and the individuals who pay taxes be included in the stimulus,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

That’s happening, to some extent, in California. The state will start taking applications in May for a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult undocumented person, capped at $1,000 per household.

“It is a very humane thing that they’re doing in California,” said Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She says it makes economic sense to help the most vulnerable to prevent them from sliding deeper into poverty.

There’s no federal help, “so they’re going to have to rely on either states like California acting independently or on the philanthropic community,” Kamarck said.

The $125 million allocated in California is enough for about 150,000 people there. That state’s undocumented population is about 2.2 million.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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