California offering financial assistance to undocumented immigrants under COVID-19 relief fund

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(CNN) — Starting Monday, undocumented immigrants in California can begin applying for financial assistance to support them during the coronavirus pandemic — in the first relief fund of its kind.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the $125 million coronavirus disaster relief fund last month to support undocumented immigrants who were ineligible for federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits due to their immigration status.

It’s the first state funding effort directed at helping undocumented immigrants as the coronavirus pandemic causes financial hardships and spurs unemployment across the nation.

“Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis,” Newsom said in a statement in April. “We are all in this together.”

The one-time benefit will provide $500 of support per adult, with a cap of $1,000 per household, Newsom’s office said. The fund combines $75 million in state donations with $50 million from private philanthropists, and is expected to benefit about 150,000 undocumented adults, according to the state’s website.

California has distributed the funds to 12 nonprofit organizations that have experience serving immigrants, and individuals can apply for assistance by contacting those organizations directly beginning on Monday.

Applications will be accepted until June 30 or until funds run out.

Undocumented workers are essential, Newsom said

Undocumented workers are overrepresented in many of the sectors deemed essential and that are keeping the state afloat, including health care, agriculture and food, manufacturing and logistics and construction, Newsom said in his initial announcement.

About 10% of California’s workforce is undocumented, he said. And though they paid over $2.5 billion in local and state taxes last year, they benefit from neither unemployment insurance nor the $2.2 trillion stimulus signed by President Trump.

Private donors to the $50 million philanthropy effort include the Emerson Collective, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, James Irvine Foundation, California Endowment and Blue Shield Foundation.

“I’m not here to suggest that $125 million is enough. But I am here to suggest it’s a good start, and I’m very proud it’s starting here in the state of California,” he said.

The measure is likely to draw criticism from groups that oppose illegal immigration, who argue that it is unfair to offer financial support to immigrants who have broken the law.

While some argue that it is not the government’s responsibility to support those undocumented when American citizens are hurting financially, immigration advocates say the disproportionate effect on undocumented workers is a wider problem.

At around 7.6 million people, unauthorized workers make up about 4.6% of the US labor force, according to 2017 data from the Pew Research Center.

For more on the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

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