California Governor Gavin Newsom is not an extremely popular politician. Yet in a year filled with chaos, disorder, and tragedy, he has presided over a singularly impressive accomplishment: during 2020, California ran a $75 billion budget surplus, a number unprecedented in the state’s history. A 1978 ballot measure requires California to return excess revenue over a certain amount to taxpayers; therefore, everyone in California making $75,000 per year or less qualify for a $600 tax rebate – amounting to a state-wide miniature stimulus check, at a total cost of roughly $12 billion.
And, controversially, “everyone” means everyone. Undocumented immigrants, who number more than two million in California and who do not qualify for federal unemployment benefits or prior stimulus checks, are scheduled to receive the payments.
The policy’s advocates suggest that it makes the urgency of stimulus measures for undocumented immigrants even more important. The lack of federal benefits has led many undocumented workers into greater crisis; it has led to higher unemployment rates among undocumented workers than U.S. citizens. Julia Gelatt, a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, has noted that the effects of this unemployment have been particularly pronounced for undocumented immigrant women.
Moreover, the lack of unemployment benefits has pushed many undocumented immigrants to continue work during the pandemic at any cost, even at risk of unsafe conditions. This has meant that undocumented immigrants are one of the groups that have been most affected by the virus in the United States. Of course, COVID-19 does not vary in its effects by citizenship, so there is a clear social benefit to a social safety net for undocumented immigrants in California.
Moreover, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes in California, albeit sometimes inconsistently. In the Golden State, they pay their taxes through an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), an alternative to the national social security number.
Some Californians have objected to the proposal. Republican State Senator Jim Nielsen, for instance, opined that the checks could create “long term obligations to the undocumented.” On the flip side, some Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists have criticized the measures for not going far enough, as some undocumented immigrants lack ITIN numbers.
The payment for undocumented immigrants will be $500, one-sixth less than U.S. citizens’ payment. Undocumented families, however, are eligible for an extra $500, the same amount that citizens’ dependents are eligible for.
Trevor Filseth is a news reporter and writer at the National Interest.