California's Undocumented Workers Would Get Unemployment Benefits Under New Bill

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man in suit speaks at podium as ralliers hold bright yellow signs reading 'fund excluded workers'
Assemblymember Robert Rivas (left, at podium) speaks in support of AB 2847, which he coauthored, as supporters rally outside the state Capitol in Sacramento on March 3, 2022. (Courtesy of Sumeet Bal, California Immigrant Policy Center)

Dozens of immigrant and worker rights advocates rallied in Sacramento on Thursday for the creation of a temporary wage replacement program for California's undocumented immigrants who become unemployed.

People without work permits are excluded from unemployment insurance benefits, even though they comprise a significant portion of the state’s labor force in key industries such as agriculture and construction.

As businesses closed during the pandemic, undocumented immigrants who lost their jobs were often left with no income to pay for rent and other basic needs. But they were ineligible for most federal public benefit programs and COVID-19 relief.

A new California bill by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) would create the first-ever pilot program to offer $300 per week for up to 20 weeks to workers who are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits because they are undocumented.

“It's time for California to take the lead on this issue, upholding California's values and taking care of all Californians – not just some, but all Californians,” said Garcia, who represents a largely Latino district in eastern Riverside and Imperial counties.

“The Excluded Workers Pilot Program will rightfully provide unemployment benefits to workers who have earned them, but are ineligible due to their documentation status,” he said.

Sponsored

The proposal, AB 2847, would task the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency with administering the income assistance, which would be offered next year at a cost of $690 million.

The bill would also require the agency to recommend plans to establish a permanent unemployment insurance benefit program for undocumented Californians by Aug. 2024.

In California, people without lawful immigration status contribute an estimated $3 billion per year in local and state taxes, according to the nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

baby in stroller with pacifier in her mouth holds sign
Ayla Arroyo, 1, from Orange County holds a sign in Spanish that reads 'Safety Net for All Coalition,' at a rally at the state Capitol on March 3, 2022. A coalition of more than 100 California organizations is calling for unemployment benefits for undocumented workers. (Courtesy of Sumeet Bal, California Immigrant Policy Center)

Maria Venegas, one of the speakers at the Sacramento rally, said she lost her job at a restaurant in San Francisco early in the pandemic and remained unemployed for several months.

Venegas remembers having to explain to her two sons, ages 10 and 15, that they had run out of money to pay rent. The family relied on food banks to survive and was ultimately evicted, she said.

“I sacrificed so much to be able to support my children,” said Venegas, an indigenous Maya immigrant from Mexico. “I came to support this bill not just for me but for our community ... so we don’t go through the same crisis again of losing our jobs without having access to any unemployment benefits.”

More than 5.2 million Californians were either undocumented or lived in a household with an undocumented person in 2018, according to census data analyzed by researchers at the University of Southern California.