Who are the Californians left out of the federal relief efforts and need support now from state policymakers?
As widely reported, California is expected to receive billions from the three federal aid packages approved by Congress last week in response to the COVID-19 economic and health crisis. The California Budget & Policy Center will issue a breakdown on what these packages mean for Californians and the outstanding questions to be addressed between federal and state policies.
These federal relief packages were necessary to start moving support to workers, households, businesses, and local governments who are dealing with the economic fallout of the fast-moving coronavirus. Still, it’s important to remember who is left out of the federal relief efforts and who needs support now from state policymakers.
For California, that notably includes our undocumented colleagues, neighbors, family, and community members who won’t be receiving recovery rebates and who will not be able to access other forms of support. And that’s significant for the health, social, and economic well-being of our state.
We are home to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants — more than 6% of the state’s population.
It’s estimated that undocumented immigrants alone contribute over $3 billion annually to California’s state and local tax system, including by paying personal income taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers — known as ITINs. Many of these Californians are engaged in important, but low-paid — and often unstable — work. From farm workers to cooks, housekeeping cleaners to construction laborers, janitors to health care workers.
Many live in households with mixed immigration status and have children who are US citizens. Nearly 1 in 8 school-aged children in Californian may have an undocumented parent.
And though undocumented Californians are a part of our communities, workplaces, and pay taxes, they are excluded from tax credits, such as the CalEITC and Young Child Tax Credit, that can put hundreds or even thousands of dollars back into their households to pay for groceries, diapers, and other basic needs.
And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to economic and health hardships — some work in service industries hit hardest by business reductions and closures, while others are employed in jobs deemed essential during this crisis, making them susceptible to the virus. Nearly 9 in 10 undocumented adults with low incomes lack health coverage, and their immigration status means they are not eligible for comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage.
Despite the many ways undocumented workers, individuals, and families are a vital part of California’s workforce and communities, they will not see a cent from the recovery rebates or qualify for expanded unemployment insurance benefits — the two major components of the federal response aimed at helping families and individuals hit hardest by the economic crisis.
So what can state policymakers do for undocumented workers and their families? Extend the economic relief and health care all Californians need in this time of crisis. For example, state leaders can develop a state-provided recovery rebate through CalEITC as well as create a state-provided wage replacement fund for people who lose work and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance, and they can work to extend Medi-Cal health coverage for all undocumented adults.
As California considers the gaps to be filled by the federal relief packages, prioritizing the urgent needs of undocumented immigrants and their families is an important opportunity for state policymakers to make our state’s economy more resilient and to lead in this time of crisis.
Alissa Anderson is a Senior Policy Analyst with the California Budget & Policy Center.