California Stimulus for Undocumented Immigrants Begins with Overwhelmed Phone Lines
“We knew the number of applicants would be high, but we were just overwhelmed.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million relief fund last month for undocumented immigrants and the first disbursements began Monday, CNN reported. The funds are available for immigrants who did not qualify for the federal stimulus program provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Helping Those Left Out
The program is the one of the first of its kind in the US and is the result of contributions from the state and private donors. The state’s contribution put forward $75 million of the fund, which is estimated to help roughly 150,000 adults. Each undocumented adult who enrolls in the program will receive a one-time disbursement of $500, limited to $1,000 per household.
“Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis,” Newsom said in April. “We are all in this together.”
In California, 10% of workers are undocumented, Newsom said, and they collectively paid over $2.5 billion for local and state taxes in 2019. While most Americans and legal workers were entitled to stimulus relief and and unemployment benefits, undocumented workers are barred from both economic measures.
Conservative Group Protests Program
Although Newsom championed the program as “a good start,” conservative groups decried the notion of spending tax money on undocumented immigrants. Notably, they disputed the legality of Newsom’s idea to distribute the funds to 12 nonprofit groups, through which immigrants can apply for relief with.
The Center for American Liberty beseeched the California Supreme Court to temporarily halt the program, calling it an illegal gift of taxpayer money to the nonprofit organizations, the LA Times reported. It also said that state and federal laws prohibit undocumented individuals from receiving unemployment benefits.
Jessica Martinez, Whittiier City councilwoman, and Ricardo Benitez, a naturalized citizen from El Salvador, sued Newsom and Keely Martin Bosler, director of the California Department of Finance. Martinez and Benitez are both running for the state Assembly as Republicans.
“This is taxpayer money that may only be appropriated by the legislative branch. This is not a slush fund for the governor to spend as he sees fit,” said Harmeet K. Dhillon, an attorney who brought the case on behalf of Martinez and Benitez. Dhillon also serves as CEO for the Center for American Liberty. “At a time when law-abiding Californians are crushed by unemployment, housing issues, business closures and massive limitations on our normal lives, Governor Newsom is doing an end-run around the legal guardrails in place.”
Cases filed to block the program were dismissed by the California Supreme Court, allowing the program to continue as scheduled.
Phone Lines Overloaded
In order to qualify for relief, applicants must be at least 18 years old, undocumented, ineligible for federal stimulus money, and have experienced economic hardship because of COVID-19, Michael Nowels reported for Daily News. Applications will be accepted until June 30 or until the fund dries up.
Phone lines were already overwhelmed on Monday shortly after they opened, the New York Times reported.
“The phone lines were completely saturated,” said Los Angeles resident Adolfo Luna. Eventually, he gave up and went to the TODEC Legal Center in Perris, Cali. He wasn’t able to fill out an application their either, but they offered to call him when he should return to complete it.
Prior to the pandemic, Luna spent 20 years singing and playing accordion at weddings and events. The virus completely eliminated his revenue source and he has been unable to find other sources of work.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is one of the groups fielding calls for applications. Within 90 minutes of opening, 630,000 phone calls flooded in.
“We knew the number of applicants would be high, but we were just overwhelmed,” said Angelica Salas, executive director for the group.
Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts are also designing economic relief programs of their own to help undocumented immigrants, the New York Times reported. While California has the most undocumented immigrants of any state — two million of 10.6 million total — the rollout of its program suggests a strong demand for economic relief for undocumented immigrants.