COVID-19 crisis or not, racist policies have no place in California
Extending tax credits to immigrant workers and their families now can end an exclusionary policy that exacerbates racial and economic inequities across communities
Another day ticks by in the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, and it becomes more evident than before that this pandemic is not affecting all Californians equally.
A disproportionate share of Latinx Californians have tested positive for the disease, while Black and Asian Californians have been more likely to die from it. In addition, Californians of color are being hit hard by the economic crisis, as they comprise the majority of workers in industries most affected by business closures.
If this comes as a surprise to policymakers charged with helping Californians amid the crisis, then they should consider who were among the millions struggling and locked out of the state’s economic prosperity long before the pandemic.
California has built many of its policy decisions on top of our nation’s long history of racist and anti-immigrant policies. Policies that have cut brown and Black Californians off from economic opportunity for generations, leaving them with far less income and wealth to be able to weather economic crises.
And now, federal economic relief efforts continue our nation’s racist and anti-immigrant legacy. This includes barring millions of our neighbors, family members, and coworkers who are immigrants or are the spouses or children of immigrants from federal recovery rebates and enhanced unemployment benefits.
Unless our leaders end exclusionary policies now, the COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate the racial and ethnic inequities created through past and present policy choices.
California has built many of its policy decisions on top of our nation’s long history of racist and anti-immigrant policies.
For California, this can start with our own tax system and ensuring Californians earning low wages receive tax credits that help support their households. As we’ve seen in this crisis, every dollar counts for families scraping by.
Immigrants who file their taxes with federally issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are excluded from our nation’s largest, most effective anti-poverty program — the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — as are their children. This exclusion was put into place in 1996 as part of so-called “welfare reform” — a glaring example of institutionalized xenophobia that authorized severe and unprecedented restrictions on immigrants’ access to public benefits.
The state tied eligibility for California’s EITC — the CalEITC — and the state’s Young Child Tax Credit to eligibility for the federal EITC. This means Californians who file taxes with ITINs — and all of their children — miss out on both of these state credits, despite contributing billions in state and local taxes each year.
Altogether, exclusions from these tax benefits and the new federal recovery rebate mean that immigrants who are hit especially hard by this economic crisis are deprived of the resources they need to meet their families’ basic needs.
The same tax system that excludes many immigrant families with low incomes provides enormous benefits to the wealthy — and overwhelmingly white — Californians.
Ending the exclusion of immigrant families from the CalEITC and Young Child Tax Credit is a critical step toward dismantling a system that creates vastly different opportunities and outcomes for Californians. Governor Newsom’s recent one-time cash payment through the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants Project isn’t nearly enough. Only ongoing, systemic policy changes will allow immigrants and their families to have the same opportunities to advance as everyone else.
Can California afford to do this now? What the state can’t afford is the human and economic costs of allowing racist policies to persist. Such policies mean that the state denies some Californians a fair chance to thrive and build a better life. And it means California favors some of our state’s children over others, putting many of our future workers at a severe disadvantage before they even choose a profession and start paying taxes.
We also can’t forget that the same tax system that excludes many immigrant families with low incomes provides enormous benefits to the wealthy — and overwhelmingly white — Californians, costing the state tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year.
We cannot welcome immigrants to work, serve, and be immersed in our communities while excluding them from basic services and benefits.
Many state and local leaders stand ready to confront California’s racist policies and great paradox: we cannot welcome immigrants to work, serve, and be immersed in our communities while excluding them from basic services and benefits. Both houses of the Legislature pushed for this change as part of their state budget plans last year, though it didn’t make it in the final budget. Now, five major legislative caucuses along with mayors from major cities have lined up in support of extending the CalEITC and Young Child Tax Credit to Californians who are immigrants.
If policymakers take anything away from this crisis, let it be this: The inequities in our society are vast, and they were brought about by policy choices by federal and state policymakers. Today’s leaders can’t change the past but they can make different choices now that pave a much better way forward for all Californians.