Farley-Bouvier bill would extend CARES Act stimulus to undocumented immigrants

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While the federal CARES Act sent stimulus checks to millions, undocumented immigrants and their families were left out of that cash injection.

A bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier aims to close that gap in Massachusetts.

The bill seeks to ensure those groups can receive the $1,200 per adult and $500 per child that they did not receive under the CARES Act. Lawmakers are looking for a funding source for the bill, filed on April 27 by Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Christine Barber, D-Medford and Somerville.

Forty-six representatives have signed onto the House bill, "An act to provide equal stimulus checks to immigrant taxpayers," which remains in committee. And while it was not included in the temporary budget passed by the House last week, Farley-Bouvier said the push will continue.

The CARES Act, the largest stimulus package in U.S. history, may keep up to 12 million people out of poverty, according to one estimate, but only those with Social Security numbers qualified to receive the funds. Immigrants who pay their taxes through an individual taxpayer identification number number, as well as anyone who shares a household with an ITIN holder, were ineligible.

In addition, ITIN holders cannot receive unemployment benefits.

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"Not only are we putting people into poverty because of that, but it's really really bad policy, to have people left out of both [stimulus checks and unemployment benefits]," Farley-Bouvier said. "It's an equity issue and a public health issue."

An estimated 1.2 million to 2 million U.S. citizens were ineligible for stimulus checks because they were married to an ITIN holder. There are around 57,000 people in Massachusetts ITIN households, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimates.

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ITIN holders are more likely to be essential workers, Farley-Bouvier said, "so they're working in nursing homes, they're working in restaurants packing your takeout."

At a time when many are facing financial hardships greater than ever before, the eligibility requirements have perpetuated inequalities and prevented people from getting the help they need, said Maureen Blennerhassett, a case worker at the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield. The center has provided one-time support with payments like rent and utilities to more than 100 families who don't receive any government-funded relief, she said.

"If anyone in the household doesn't have a Social Security number, no one is getting a payment in that house," Blennerhassett said. "Undocumented immigrants overwhelmingly pay their taxes every year, and they contribute billions of dollars to the economy through their taxes. People ask me all the time: 'I pay my taxes. Can you confirm if I can get unemployment?' It is just so not fair."

California in April set up a fund to support undocumented immigrants with a $500 check per adult. A lawsuit filed in Maryland also alleges that the CARES Act improperly excluded undocumented taxpayers.

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The federal HEROES Act includes a provision to retroactively extend CARES Act payments to undocumented families, but the fate of the HEROES Act in the Republican-led Senate is unclear.

MassUndocuFund seeks to support undocumented people in the state, and assistance from nonprofits is not taken into account by the public charge rule, Blennerhassett said.

"We still have some people to convince, but momentum is growing" for the House bill, Farley-Bouvier said.

"They're saying that the CARES Act precludes this program from being included in that CARES Act money," she said. "I'm not quite sure that's true, but we're investigating to find a funding source. This conversation is not over."

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.


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