$2.2 Trillion Appropriations Measure to Address COVID-19 Excludes Certain Immigrants

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$2.2 Trillion Appropriations Measure to Address COVID-19 Excludes Certain Immigrants

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed and the President signed a $2.2 trillion supplemental appropriations measure, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES, S. 3548), to provide needed assistance to a variety of sectors in the US economy, including hospitals, transportation hubs (including airlines), small businesses, families, and individuals.  Immigrants, particularly the undocumented, were largely excluded from eligibility for aid in the package.

Specifically, immigrants without a valid Social Security number (SSN) and work authorization are excluded from unemployment insurance benefits and direct cash payments ($1200 per adult and $500 per children for households under $75,000 a year).  Resident aliens, immigrants with green cards and those who show “substantial presence,” are eligible for the direct cash payments.

A taxpayer who files a tax return with an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) will not receive these benefits.  ITIN filers contribute nearly $12 billion in state and local taxes each year; in 2015, ITIN filers paid $23.6 billion in federal taxes.

Mixed-status families also would be excluded from a monetary rebate, which would exclude millions of working families from assistance. (Military families with a least one spouse with an SSN are eligible for the payment.) The exclusion of working mixed-status families and undocumented individuals from assistance will have a negative impact on immigrant communities nationwide, hurting local economies and harming US citizen children.

New funding for enforcement purposes was left out of the package, and ICE and CBP will be unable to use any COVID-19 related funds for enforcement purposes.  The bill also prevents coronavirus funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) from being diverted to border wall construction on the southern border. These are welcome developments, as DHS continues to detain thousands of immigrants eligible for release and deport immigrants to Central America, increasing the risk of infection among the immigrant population.

In other provisions, $350 million was added for Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account in the budget for the Department of State to assist refugees.  About $3.3 billion was appropriated to bolster Community Health Centers and $450 million provided for food banks, both of which would help serve immigrant communities.  

Undocumented immigrants and certain temporary legal residents, including some DACA and TPS recipients, would remain ineligible for Medicaid or Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage needed to obtain treatment for COVID-19.  Testing for the virus is available to these populations, as authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (HR 6201).

During the debate, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced their own version of a stimulus package (HR 6379) which included provisions protecting immigrants which were not included in the final bill.  Such provisions included 1) a Medicaid option for states to provide Medicaid to individuals regardless of immigration status; 2) cash benefits to individuals with an ITIN number; 3) automatic extension of work permits for DACA and TPS recipients ; and 4) funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to provide cash payments to refugees resettled in the last 12 months. 

These provisions could be included in a subsequent stimulus package considered by Congress in the weeks and months ahead.

March 27, 2020

Kevin Appleby