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To Spur Wisconsin’s Economy, Ensure All Immigrants Are Included in COVID Relief Proposals

July 30, 2020, by Tamarine Cornelius

The Republican plan for the next round of COVID relief does not go far enough to meet the needs of Wisconsin families, and ignores the hardship of people who are struggling to get by during the recession caused by the pandemic. The GOP proposal also prohibits some immigrants from receiving benefits, which would make it harder for those families to make ends meet, and would also slow the economic recovery.

The new GOP COVID relief plan is better described by what’s not in it than what is. It would slash unemployment benefits for people thrown out of work by the pandemic, and slow down the delivery of unemployment benefits at a time when states are already backlogged. The plan includes no increase in SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) to help people buy food for themselves and their families, no funding for homelessness or help for people trying to make rent, and no new aid to states and cities to prevent cuts to critical public services we all rely on.

One thing the GOP plan does include is another round of direct payments, the same as in an earlier stimulus package: $1,200 for adults and $500 for each child, subject to income limitations. For the most part, the new round of direct payments are designed in a way to get desperately-needed aid delivered quickly to families with low and moderate incomes. People wouldn’t need to apply to get the credits, and the IRS would send the money automatically. 

There is one major shortcoming in the eligibility rules for the new round of direct payments included in the GOP plan: some immigrants would be barred from receiving the payments, despite the fact that immigrant communities are an important part of our economy and should be included in measures aimed at addressing the slowdown. Like the bill that included the first round of direct payments, the GOP’s new COVID relief bill would prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving the direct payments, even if they have filed federal tax returns. In fact, if anyone in the family is undocumented, such as the spouse or child, no one in the family would receive the payments. 

In Wisconsin, there are an estimated 54,000 children in mixed-status immigrant families in which at least one family member is undocumented. The Senate GOP bill would block everyone in those families from getting the new round of direct COVID relief payments. For example, a family of five people in which one person is undocumented and everyone else is a citizen would receive nothing in direct payments, even if the family regularly files tax returns. In contrast, a similarly-situated family in which everyone is a citizen would receive a direct payment of nearly $4,000. 

The aid package passed back in May by the House, in contrast, not only includes undocumented immigrants in a new round of direct payments, but would also expand eligibility from the first round of direct payments to include all immigrants. 

As Congress considers additional aid packages, they need to make sure to provide assistance to everyone who needs it, and not leave out important members of our community. Barring some immigrants from receiving the direct payments makes it harder for people to provide for their families and slows the recovery, as less money goes into the pockets of families that spend the money at local businesses in their communities.