How undocumented immigrants can receive financial assistance in California

CalMatters hosts with La Opinión


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Mercy Sosa and Erick Salgado

Este artículo también está disponible en Español.

Nonprofit news organization CalMatters and Spanish-language news outlet La Opinión hosted a Spanish-language virtual event on how Californians and undocumented immigrants can access financial assistance to cover food, housing and rent during the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday at 6 p.m. 

Jacqueline García, a journalist at La Opinión, moderated the discussion with legal experts Alexis M. Alvarez, Unai Montes-Irueste and Rigo Reyes.

The livestream was conducted in Spanish, and the quotes in this article are translated. This article is also available in Spanish

What benefits can an undocumented worker receive?

While many U.S. citizens can count on food stamps, unemployment assistance and the stimulus check individuals who are undocumented immigrants. And if an individual cannot provide evidence of citizenship, then they do not qualify for state assistance, according to García. 

Alvarez, a lawyer for Legal Aid at Work, said undocumented immigrants in California qualify for two types of benefits that come from the state. 

The first type of benefit is provided by the State Disability Insurance (SDI), which can be solicited by individuals who are either sick with the coronavirus or are in quarantine ordered by a medical professional, Alvarez said.

“What that benefit does is replace from 60% to 70% of the regular wage of that person,” Alvarez said. “They base it on a basic period of approximately 12 or 18 months.” 

The second benefit applies to someone  taking care of a family member who has coronavirus or any other serious medical condition, then the  person applicable can solicit for permission for Paid Family Leave.  

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Undocumented immigrants may face obstacles soliciting for assistance from the Employment Development Department (EDD) due to fear over providing a social security number. 

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According to Alvarez, undocumented workers are recommmended to fill the paper from out as opposed to the online version, and to leave the social security box empty.

CalFresh and MediCal

Montes-Irueste, director of communications for United Ways of America said that undocumented immigrants can apply for CalFresh if someone in their family is a U.S. citizen.

“Any person that has someone in their house, especially a child that is eligible for CalFresh which is food and for MediCal which is medical care,” Montes-Irueste said. “Please get those resources to enroll your kids in MediCal and CalFresh because that is a security really that whatever happens medical care is there and whatever happens food is there.”

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What about paying rent? 

“The county implemented a rule that prohibits the evictions of people in households for the fact that they cannot pay the rent in Los Angeles County in two months,” Reyes said. 

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In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom banned landlords from evicting residents affected by the coronavirus under an executive order placed on March 27. 

The ban has been put in place through May 31 and applies to everyone in the state.

Newsom proposal to provide assistance for undocumented immigrants 

Newsom is the first governor in the US to acknowledge that there is a need to provide assistance to undocumented immigrants that were excluded from the coronavirus stimulus package, according to Montes-Irueste.

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“In the proposed bill, Newsom said how California is going to raise $75 million and ask his friends in the state to lend a hand,” Montes-Irueste said. “With help from people like Laurene Powell Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and other people from California have a commitment to help with $50 million.”

The initiative by Newsom has a total of $125 million for undocumented immigrants.

“In California, depending on which figure you look at, has almost 3 million undocumented people. Realistically, each person in that figure would receive $500,” Montes-Irueste said. 

Montes-Irueste said the money reserved for undocumented immigrants is limited and expected to cover approximately 150-250 thousand people in a population of 3 million undocumented people.

“In this solution to help everyone, it doesn’t actually help everyone,” Montes-Irueste said. “In the proposal made by the governor, they’re working with organizations that already have existing funds to help the undocumented community.”

Organizations such as UndocuFund and UnitedWays have programs across California that can help those who are in desperate need, according to Montes-Irueste. 

Where can undocumented immigrants have their questions answered? 

Reyes said that those who reside in Los Angeles County can call the Office of Immigration Affairs as he states it is their purpose to help the people and help understand the services offered in the county.

The phone number for the office of immigration affairs is +1(800) 593-8222 and press 5. The personnel speak many languages in order to assist callers. 

“And of course, know you’re not limited to one form of assistance, but all forms of assistance offered by your county to help your family not individually but as a whole,” Reyes said.

Alvarez said that for questions on the current situation around benefits for undocumented immigrants, call the Legal Aid at Work office at (415) 404-9093.