With 2.2 million undocumented immigrants living and working in California, the state last week announced the launch of a disaster relief fund to provide cash assistance to undocumented residents who have been impacted by COVID-19. The state has dedicated $75 million to the fund and has a commitment from the philanthropic network Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees to raise an additional $50 million.
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for the federal relief programs put in place to help families through the economic shutdown. The Californian fund will not be robust enough to provide $1,200 for every adult—the amount most Americans are receiving from the CARES Act—but the goal is to provide one-time cash payments of $500 per adult, with a limit of $1,000 per household.
The funds will be disbursed through “a community-based model of regional nonprofits” serving undocumented communities, an effort to reassure individuals that accessing the fund will not increase their risk of deportation.
California’s undocumented immigrants make up 10 percent of the state’s workforce and, according to Governor Gavin Newson, paid $2.5 billion in state and local taxes last year. In his press statement, Newsom emphasized the state’s diversity:
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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. We are all in this together.
“This is really going to help get some money into the hands of people who have been completely excluded from our social safety net that are getting really hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic,” says Derek Schoonmaker, an attorney at the Oakland-based Centro Legal de la Raza, to the Mercury News. “At the same time, I think I and other advocates see this as a strong first step, but just that.”
Undocumented immigrants may begin to apply for relief next month. With $125 million, the state could provide $500 each to 250,000 individuals. However, the legislation is far from sufficient to cover all of the 2.2 million undocumented residents in the state, including an estimated 70 percent of the state’s farmworkers.
As a result, community groups continue to mobilize. The nonprofit Centro Legal de la Raza has launched its own fund, raising a modest $400,000 to date. It, too, will dispense $500 relief checks.
Says Schoonmaker in the Mercury News, “We know that that’s going to fall so far short of the need that folks have, but we want to get something into people’s hands and into a good number of people’s hands to help tide folks over in this time.”—Karen Kahn