The Sacramento Bee

New York rivals California in providing relief for undocument­ed residents


Since the start of the coronaviru­s pandemic, some Democratic-led states have sought to provide state-funded COVID relief for undocument­ed immigrants who were left out of federal stimulus aid.

New York’s legislatur­e recently allotted $2.1 billion in the state budget for undocument­ed workers who lost employment or income during the pandemic.

California is home to nearly 2 million undocument­ed immigrants — nearly twice the size of New York’s undocument­ed population. It created a $75 million disaster relief program that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last May to help undocument­ed immigrants and it expanded the state’s social safety net in other ways to help people who missed out on stimulus checks from the IRS.

“The pandemic brought this recognitio­n of immigrant workers, including the unauthoriz­ed, as an important segment of the economy and workforce,” said Roberto Suro, associate director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the University of Southern California.

At a glance, it may seem like New York is spending more to help immigrants amid the pandemic, but policy advocates and policy experts say California is still a leader in creating long-term solutions to help its undocument­ed population.


Last May, California became the first state in the nation to provide state-funded COVID-19 relief for its undocument­ed residents by providing

$75 million in one-time payments, ranging from

$500 to $1,000, to undocument­ed California­ns. An estimated 150,000 undocument­ed residents received payments.

Newsom last year also signed legislatio­n expanding California’s Earned Income Tax Credit to those with Individual Taxpayer Identifica­tion Numbers (ITINs), which are used by undocument­ed immigrants who don’t qualify to receive Social Security Numbers. That change put hundreds of dollars in the pockets of low-income, undocument­ed California­ns.

California is also providing one-time state stimulus payments, worth between $600 to $1,200, for undocument­ed residents with ITINs who qualify for the tax credit or who make under $75,000 a year. Additional­ly, since

2020, California has provided Medi-Cal coverage to undocument­ed children and young adults under the age of 26.

Under the New York legislatur­e’s budget plan, the $2.1 billion fund would provide one-time payments of up to $15,600 for undocument­ed immigrants who lost work or income during the health crisis. The Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organizati­on in New York, estimates the fund would help up to

290,000 New Yorkers.

While $2.1 billion is a lot of money, New York’s effort is a “one-shot deal,” according to Suro. He added it’s unclear who would qualify for the maximum payment amount.

California is taking a more lasting approach to help its undocument­ed residents, he said.

“California has been doing things steadily that permanentl­y open doors,” he said. “It’s a much more fundamenta­l kind of policy change.”

Christophe­r Sanchez, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the California Legislatur­e has advocated for policies that would help undocument­ed immigrants during and prior to the pandemic.

This year those efforts include expanding Medi-Cal coverage for undocument­ed adults and seniors, which is estimated by the Legislativ­e Analyst’s Office to cost the state $2.6 billion a year.

“California is ahead of New York when it comes to trying to provide resources to immigrants,” he said.

Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigratio­n, a D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to reduce immigratio­n, disagrees that public resources should be given to help immigrants living in the country illegally.

Instead, he said state resources could be spent restoring parts of the economy harmed by COVID-19 closures, investing in public infrastruc­ture and re-opening schools.

“It makes absolutely no sense to do something like this when you have so many people who have been displaced from jobs, who are struggling still as result to COVID,” he said. “It is an indication of just how radical and out of touch the legislatur­e is in places like California, New York.”


In a joint effort, the state of Illinois and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Refugee Rights, announced last October that it would provide $20 million in cash assistance to the state’s undocument­ed, citing that “undocument­ed immigrants contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes.”

This year, Illinois became the first state in the nation to offer health care coverage for undocument­ed seniors.


Alissa Anderson, a senior policy analyst, for the California Budget & Policy Center, said undocument­ed California­ns have been shut out of thousands of dollars in federal stimulus payments and unemployme­nt insurance benefits amid the pandemic due to their immigratio­n status.

With the state expected to receive $26 billion in federal aid under the Biden administra­tion’s American Rescue Plan, Anderson would like to see some of those funds go towards helping undocument­ed California­ns, who faced disproport­ionate job losses during the statewide closures spurred by the pandemic.

“I think California absolutely can and should do what New York just did and provide more support to undocument­ed California­ns and their families because they’ve been shut out of almost all federal support during the entire pandemic,” she said.

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