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
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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

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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