Undocumented Residents Have a Week Left to Apply for COVID-19 Relief

'We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation, but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians,' said Gov. Gavin Newsom during an April briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. (Agustin Paullier/AFP via Getty Images)

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California would offer $500 to undocumented adults who’ve lost money because of COVID-19. It was a way to help out those who don't qualify for federal relief, many of whom are essential workers.

“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation, but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians," Newsom said during one of his regular briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.

But time to apply for California's Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI) program is running out. Applications must be complete by June 30, and advocates are worried that a bureaucratic process is preventing many from accessing the help.

Lorena Gonzalez, a domestic worker in Santa Ana, said she’s one of the lucky ones. She lost her job early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, but was able to apply for and receive her $500 within the first week of the program, in mid-May.

Her husband, who lost his job on March 13, didn’t receive his money until June. Through a translator, Gonzalez said they desperately needed it.

“It helps a lot in being able to catch up on rent because we were already behind on rent," she said. "With the help of a lot of friends and family we've been able to make it through.”

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California expects to help approximately 150,000 undocumented adults through the $75 million program. And nonprofits around the state have been tasked with distributing the money. Unai Montes is with the United Way, which is helping coordinate the effort. He said while the intent of the program is good, it doesn't go far enough.

"The bottom line here is that it's not enough money," he said. "It won't reach enough people. It just not a sustainable solution to the problem."

And Montes said the execution of the program is lacking too. The process has been bogged down by high demand, overwhelmed call centers and people struggling to provide documentation that they've been affected by COVID-19.

Disaster Relief Assistance Fund

Montes said it would have been easier to use the state’s tax agency to distribute the funds.

"The California Franchise Tax Board is in the business of sending people checks and making direct deposits," he said. "It is the only statewide entity that, without adding any additional workers or any additional infrastructure, can send checks.”

But Eliana Kaimowitz, Chief of the Immigrant Integration Branch at the state Department of Social Services, said the state felt applicants would feel more comfortable going through nonprofits.

“Because of immigration enforcement and the way that the undocumented community has been targeted, many are not as comfortable coming forward to government programs and applying," she said.

As of mid-June the state had approved $21.5 million in assistance. Kaimowitz said she expects all of the program’s money to be awarded.

A companion philanthropic effort has pledged to raise an additional $50 million to help undocumented Californians. So far organizers say the group has distributed $10 million, with plans to award another $7.5 million this week.

Check out our guide on how to apply for the DRAI program here