California will cut $500 checks to undocumented immigrants struggling to pay bills because of the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s governor announced Wednesday, becoming the first jurisdiction to offer a rescue package to people who aren’t in the country legally.
State taxpayers will shell out $75 million from their Disaster Relief Fund, and another $50 million will come from a network of philanthropic foundations, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
Undocumented immigrant adults can get a $500 check, with a maximum of $1,000 per household. Mr. Newsom anticipated about 150,000 people will get a check — a small fraction of the state’s population of perhaps 2 million.
He said the program fills in the gap in the federal COVID-19 rescue bill, which is paying most adults up to $1,200, but does not cover immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis,” the Democratic governor said. “We are all in this together.”
They will be able to apply beginning in May.
Mr. Newsom did not say how the state will verify the payments are going to undocumented immigrants, but said the money will be handed out by regional nonprofits that, he said, have “expertise” in reaching the immigrants.
Last week he announced the state’s Medicaid program would pay for testing and treatment of COVID-19 for any state resident.
The coronavirus crisis has become a proving ground for immigrant rights activists, who say the 11 million people in the country without permission are often on the “front lines” of economic activity, such as working the farms to keep the food supply intact.
Activists also point to thousands of “Dreamers” who have tentative status under the Obama-era DACA program and who are working as nurses, or hundreds of thousands of migrants here under the humanitarian Temporary Protected Status program who are working mainly low-wage jobs.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have demanded the administration automatically extend those and other work permits, giving migrants a chance to remain beyond their current allotted time.
The Trump administration did take a small step Wednesday, ruling that agriculture guest workers here under the H-2A program will be allowed to stay beyond the three-year limit, and can switch employers, too.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that would help stabilize the food supply.
In California, immigrant rights groups cheered Mr. Newsom’s announcement, calling it a bold statement on behalf of those here illegally.
“This is a recognition of the fact that immigrant families are essential to our state. Their economic and labor contributions are keeping us going,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
She said the federal government “has ignored” undocumented immigrants, so the state’s help is important.
Mr. Newsom said the foundations the state is working with have said they can raise the additional $50 million. The California Immigrant Resilience Fund has $5.5 million in the bank right now, and it is soliciting donations from the public online.
CIRF says 1 in 10 California workers is here illegally.
The fund said it may pay more to undocumented immigrants in the high-cost area around San Francisco, compared with the state’s Central Valley region.
“The California Immigrant Resilience Fund is a critical investment because so many immigrant families have been left out of other aid packages, yet these residents face consequences to their health and safety that will be compounded across future generations,” said Debbie I. Chang, president of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, which has committed $1 million to the fund.