Undocumented workers fall through the cracks
Despite paying taxes, those not here legally ineligible for benefits
THE US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR reported 3.23 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, up from 282,000 during the previous week. In Massachusetts, about 148,000 filed an initial claim for unemployment insurance in that same period.
But in the rush for help, one group — undocumented workers — is largely left out. Hidden in plain sight as dishwashers, sous chefs, construction workers, and custodians, they are being laid off in droves as sit-down restaurants shutter, development projects halt, and businesses and universities close.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week that the state would expedite state unemployment insurance claims for workers losing their jobs in the aftermath of the pandemic hitting the state. But undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for unemployment insurance despite often paying taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service has been asking unauthorized immigrants for tax money long before coronavirus, and in 2017, that equaled about $184.5 million in state and local taxes. Despite those payments, they can’t be included in the federal bailout.
Safety net programs that many unemployed people turn to, like food stamps and subsidized housing, are also off the table. Undocumented workers also do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.
“Undocumented workers are going to be the ones left out of any sort of social safety net we have set up,” said Lily Huang, co-director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, to Eater Magazine.
A patchwork group of efforts are coming together, from labor, legal, and community groups, to provide help.
In Boston, a COVID-19 resource guide for immigrants, “regardless of immigration status,” has been compiled. The city is directing people to the nonprofit Project Bread, which is offering a multilingual hotline to help families. There’s also information on where children can get food while schools are closed. More info on food pantries and senior dining sites is also included.The Mass UndocuFund, backed by Jobs with Justice, MataHari Women’s Worker Centers, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, and One Fair Wage, is trying to raise at least $1 million for undocumented families. The effort launched March 23, and has $22,000 in its coffers so far, or enough to provide help to 70 recently unemployed workers and families. Funds are meant to help with expenses, including rent, groceries, medicine, transportation, and even funerals.
In Northampton, a similar effort started Thursday through Pioneer Valley Workers Center, with the goal of reaching $50,000.