COVID job losses grow, economic aid for undocumented remains a tough find

Thursday, May 07, 2020


[Versión en español aquí / Spanish version here]

Many resources, goods and services have been hard to come by during the COVID-19 era. From the unreal, but survivable, long lines at supermarkets to the serious delays in getting help at the unemployment office, the coronavirus is challenging everyone. Those fortunate enough to be working from home full-time might be struggling to figure out how to keep the family connected to overburdened broadband networks, or they may be learning more about home schooling than they ever wanted to. But, as trying as these times can be for some remote workers, they still have their jobs and income.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that unemployment in the U.S. is swelling to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s: one in six American workers have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and some 26 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks. Although that's an unbelievably enormous number of unemployment claims, there are still many more hardworking taxpayers across America who won't have access to these benefits because of their undocumented status.

Despite paying almost $32 billion in state and federal taxes per year, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for unemployment benefits. They also won't get the up to $1,200 in CARES Act stimulus payments that the federal government is now sending to almost everyone with a pulse (and to some people without a pulse, too). And, as for the federally expanded unemployment benefit allowing for an extra $600 per week through the end of July, undocumented workers who lost their jobs won't get it either. This despite the fact that, back when we all still had places to go and people to see, we often relied on these workers for clean hotel rooms, shiny fingernails, freshly washed cars, and much more.

Who's helping?

Undocumented immigrants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic have a few sources to turn to for possible financial assistance, although funds are limited and in high demand. Many sources of aid are private, although some state and local governments have started to create assistance programs that can help immigrants, regardless of immigration status.

In California, for example, where undocumented workers make up about 10% of the work force, the governor announced a first-of-its-kind disaster relief assistance program to help undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19. Up to two adults per household, whether or not they lost a job, could each receive a one-time payment of $500 (up to a $1,000 maximum per household) from a $125 million public-private fund. The relief program is already facing a legal challenge seeking an emergency court order to prevent distribution of the funds. We'll be watching this closely, as the petition was filed only late last week.

Other states, as well as city and county governments, are creating or considering programs to help undocumented residents. Politico reported last week that Minneapolis is offering $5 million in assistance to tenants and small businesses, regardless of their immigration status; Chicago extended its coronavirus relief programs, including aid for housing and small businesses, to undocumented immigrants; and New Jersey's governor "wants to look at" a fund for immigrants.

In Los Angeles, the Mayor announced the "Angeleno Card" program in mid-April. This is a privately funded campaign that will provide up to $1,500 to low-income Los Angeles households experiencing job or income loss because of COVID-19, regardless of immigration status. The hugely popular program is already closed to new applications, but there was good news about its expansion last week due to several large donations, including the largest ever received by the Mayor's Fund. The program now expects to distribute funds to 15,000 households, benefiting 45,000 low-income consumers.

In New York City, where an estimated 192,000 undocumented workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic, immigrant families, regardless of immigration status, will soon be able to benefit from the New York City COVID-19 Immigrant Emergency Relief program. Depending on household size, the program initially will provide one-time payments of between $400 and $1,000 to as many as 20,000 undocumented workers and their families who lost jobs or are experiencing financial distress as a result of the pandemic. According to New York Public Radio's Gothamist, undocumented New Yorkers have very few options for financial help.

Finding help

Consumer Action encourages consumers who need assistance to seek out programs that may be available to them regardless of immigration status. One good place to inquire about social services programs, including those that may provide financial assistance, is the local 211 service. Get in contact with your local office by dialing 211 or visiting

Here are some links to resource lists that focus on, or include, information for undocumented immigrants, including several sources for financial relief around the country. You'll want to check several of these, and check them often, especially since funding for some relief programs may dry up, then may become available again as additional funds are raised.

• Informed Immigrant provides a comprehensive state-by-state list of resources, including all of the sources of relief mentioned above and many more.

• Legal Aid at Work's list of relief funds for undocumented workers includes California resources and also many resources available nationwide.

• offers a comprehensive list with resources for individuals and organizations. Because it's so long, try visiting the page and searching for "undoc" to quickly jump to several nationwide resources for undocumented consumers.

• My Undocumented Life compiled a list with a few key resources and news to help undocumented and mixed-status families. Among the comprehensive resources listed, for example, is the Massachusetts Workers Emergency Relief Funds list and resources for immigrants in Illinois, New York, and Washington State and other areas.

• The Congressional Hispanic Caucus offers an extensive Spanish language and immigrant community COVID-19 resource list.

• The Betancourt-Macias Family Scholarship Foundation provides a nationwide resource list of emergency relief funds for immigrants.


UPDATE, MAY 7, 2020:

Earlier this week, California courts rejected not just one, but two separate lawsuits seeking to stop the California governor's financial assistance program for undocumented state residents impacted by COVID-19. With both the state Supreme Court and a Los Angeles Superior Court declining to issue orders to stop the program, plans to provide financial assistance for up to 150,000 undocumented consumers can continue.


© 2020 Consumer Action

Updated: May 7, 2020   (Original publication: April 28, 2020)





Quick Menu

Facebook FTwitter T

Consumer Help Desk