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California Will Provide $125 Million in Stimulus Checks to Undocumented Workers

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150,000 undocumented workers, particularly in restaurants, will receive checks of $500 or more

Hospital Ship USNS Mercy Arrives at the Port of Los Angeles
Governor Gavin Newsom aboard a hospital ship outside of Los Angeles
Photo by Carolyn Cole-Pool/Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Earlier today California governor Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million plan to provide disaster relief funds to the state’s many undocumented immigrants, who make up roughly 10 percent of the state’s entire workforce. Undocumented workers are particularly concentrated in agricultural and farm work, and within the restaurant and overall hospitality industries, all of which have been hit particularly hard during the current coronavirus pandemic.

Per Newsom, the checks would provide $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families. The funding is part of a larger public-private partnership, Newsom’s office announced, with $75 million coming from the state’s disaster relief funds and another $50 million coming from a variety of philanthropic partners including the Emerson Collective, Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Endowment, the James Irvine Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and others. Public donations will also be accepted to the fund.

“The state’s Disaster Relief Fund will be dispersed through a community-based model of regional nonprofits with expertise and experience serving undocumented communities,” a notice on the governor’s website reads. The one-time checks are intended to service roughly 150,000 undocumented Californians “who are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to their immigration status.” Newsom’s office has also previously laid out a standalone guide for immigrant Californians, documented and otherwise, to seek COVID-19 testing and treatment, among other things.

Prior to today, undocumented workers have been largely left out of the financial assistance pool both federally and locally, leaving ad hoc non-profits like Boyle Heights-based No Us Without You to fill in the gaps. Undocumented workers have long been understood to be a backbone of the greater Southern California restaurant industry (and America’s at large), from street vending to high-end restaurant and hotel work. But they have mostly been ineligible for the $2 trillion federal stimulus package because of their immigration status, making them the “forgotten victims” of the current coronavirus shutdown. Undocumented workers make up 40 percent or more of the Los Angeles restaurant workforce, according to some estimates.