Undocumented workers rush to apply for coronavirus aid, overwhelming California system

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Undocumented workers flooded California’s coronavirus disaster relief website Monday, causing the site to crash for several hours, a state official said.

Additionally, the hotlines for the nonprofits distributing the funding were “jammed,” and many people struggled to get through, an attorney told The Bee.

Monday marked the first day undocumented workers could apply for the one-time payment of $500 per individual or $1,000 per household.

Scott Murray, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Social Services, said the department’s site was down from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Monday.

“The website is currently up and running, and we are continuing to increase its capacity,” he said. “We understand that the demand is high for the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants program.”

However, that fund is expected to be drained “very quickly,” according to Ana Padilla, executive director of UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have said the $125 million fund announced in April for the state’s undocumented population is not enough.

Experts have noted the fund would only be enough to assist about 150,000 undocumented workers across the state. It’s estimated that about 270,000 undocumented people have lost work since the outbreak.

Some 112,000 undocumented workers are estimated to live in the central San Joaquin Valley. The state has roughly 2 million undocumented residents, according to researchers.

Push for more money faces challenges

The high volume in calls from undocumented immigrants on Monday shows the need for the state “to step in and do something more significant,” said Kim Ouillette, attorney and fellow with Legal Aid at Work.

Legal Aid is among 100 organizations calling on the state to create a temporary partial income replacement program that would provide a $400 weekly payment to undocumented workers who are unemployed or underemployed.

Individuals would be able to receive financial assistance for up to eight weeks, Ouillette said.

Supporters estimate that about 216,499 individuals would be able to access relief if the program was created, according to a letter sent to Newsom on Monday signed by 14 state legislators supporting the initiative.

According to the letter, the new funding would assist undocumented workers who were unemployed or underemployed between March 29 and July 25.

“We are hopeful that legislators will recognize how important and significant this is, and make it a priority despite the budget shortfall,” Ouillette told The Bee on Monday.

Getting this new proposed program approved could be an “uphill battle,” she said.

In his revised budget proposal last week, Newsom announced deep cuts for various state services to help address a $54.3 billion deficit brought on by COVID-19.

In addition to the funding hurdle, the push to help undocumented workers also faces political challenges. A lawsuit filed by The Center for American Liberty and Dhillon Law Group seeks to block the aid package Newsom already approved.

Opponents, including the Fresno County Republican Party, earlier this month told The Bee that any assistance should go to U.S. citizens only.

Undocumented workers are believed to make up about 10% of the workforce in California, Ouillette said.

Padilla said a new research report being released Tuesday by her center found that, since Feb. 15 and April 18, about 390,000 non-citizen workers, including individuals with legal status, have moved out of California.

“Our economic recovery relies on non-citizen workers, particularly in the food chain,” she said, adding that a lack of adequate benefits for these individuals could lead to “consequences that the state is not prepared for.”

She said that creating a new fund on top of the $125 million fund would be crucial.

“It would help to provide a base level of support towards ensuring that undocumented and mixed-status families can survive this pandemic,” she said.

Dillon Savory, executive director with the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council, has been pushing to create more protections for California workers. He said any additional money for undocumented workers would likely need federal support.

“It’s my understanding that everything in Sacramento has come to a grinding halt for legislation,” he said Monday.

He said he believes the “ inside baseball between Sacramento and the White House will determine if there is additional money beyond the $125 million for undocumented workers.”

“We will be lobbying to expand that amount,” he said. “Every single person in California relies on undocumented workers for food, whether they know it or not.”

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