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The numbers around undocumented immigrants in the U.S. can be terribly hard to pin down, in part because obtaining those statistics is such a complex and imprecise process. But when it comes to the federal stimulus package that is rushing money to those in need during the COVID-19 crisis, we can do some rounding.
There are millions. There are billions. There are trillions. And there is zero.
It goes like this: According to estimates, somewhere between 4.3 million and 5.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. pay taxes worth roughly $27 billion annually to federal, state and local governments.
Their share of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package? Zero.
This was the net result of the bill in its final form, after the Republican leadership stripped out a provision that would have included undocumented taxpayers on a list of relief recipients that includes massive corporations, small businesses, state and local governments, hospitals, medical centers and about 80 percent of American citizens.
GOP-crafted language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act specifically denied the $1,200 personal stimulus payments to those who file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The ITIN is used primarily by undocumented workers who nevertheless want to pay taxes, often to demonstrate they respect the laws of the U.S. in case they are ever evaluated for permanent status.
It isn’t the first time such reciprocity to the ITIN users has been denied. During the recession of 2008, a federal stimulus act similarly denied relief to those who did not have a valid Social Security Number.
Now, a trio of Democratic lawmakers is attempting a post-passage corrective. The Leave No Taxpayer Behind Act would amend the original bill to again include all taxpayers in the group receiving $1,200 individual payments.
“COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate,” U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, one of the House bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement. “It impacts all communities, and people of all backgrounds. Our relief programs shouldn’t discriminate against those people who need help during this crisis.”
Undocumented immigrants largely work jobs in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and the service industry, according to figures compiled by CBS News. With many of these sectors getting bashed financially during the coronavirus pandemic, job losses and potential personal economic ruin are running high.
As Maria Ortiz, an undocumented worker who owns an ice cream business in Southern California, told Cal Matters, “We live paycheck to paycheck and we don’t really have any savings. We don’t qualify for [government services] even though we work and pay taxes.”
The government has long accepted tax money from those to whom it nevertheless denies tax-funded services. In this case, it’s shooting itself in the foot, as many undocumented workers live close to the margins and would be among the most likely to pump their stimulus money right back into the economy, using it to pay bills or buy food.
No choice but to physically go to the store to stock up
For most of the estimated 42 million Americans who use food stamps to help feed their families, the pandemic has brought with it a new magnitude of problem: At a time when social distancing is critical, they have no choice but to physically go to the store to stock up.
According to a report by Politico, only six states allow online payments with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. And although some lawmakers and nonprofit groups are trying to find a fix, there isn’t likely to be a quick one coming.
The buildout of an e-transfer process for food stamps has been laborious and beset by problems, in part because an extra layer of security must be constructed to prevent online fraud or theft. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture told Politico there are “multiple, vital steps” that must be undertaken by states before they can begin online grocery sales through SNAP.
Last year, New York became the first state with such a program. Washington, Alabama, Iowa, Oregon and Nebraska, which launched just this month, are the other states up and running. Maryland and New Jersey were part of a pilot program but haven’t yet ramped up online ordering, and California has requested permission from the USDA to build out its operation.
Those filing for unemployment relief in California will see an additional boost this week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California workers will receive an extra $600 per week as part of the federal stimulus package. That means the average weekly payment of $340 will become $940, and the maximum weekly unemployment insurance check will rise to $1,050.
The additional benefit, which begins with claims filed for the week ending April 11, is scheduled to run for four months. In a statement, Newsom said the increased payment “is very important to our workers so they have needed resources during this difficult time.”
According to Newsom’s office last week, California processed 2.3 million unemployment insurance claims over the previous four weeks. That’s more than the total number of claims filed for all of 2019.
It’s no secret that frontline workers in multiple capacities are vulnerable to coronavirus, in large part because their jobs cannot be done remotely. Recent reporting in New York bears out that truth in grim fashion.
At least 33 bus and subway workers there have died from COVID-19, reports The City. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has more than 74,000 employees. By comparison, the news site noted, the NYPD had lost 13 people to the virus from its workforce of more than 55,000.
During a daily briefing last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of transit employees, “They’re doing heroic work. Very high rate of illness – that’s a problem.”
With the virus in peak mode in New York’s boroughs, the MTA has radically reduced its transit schedule. But with so many workers in the city deemed essential, the system will continue to operate without cessation. More than 20 percent of MTA’s employees are between the ages of 55 and 62, The City reported.
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