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

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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