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Pandemic Relief Options Running Out For Some Immigrants, Hopes Pinned On State Emergency Food Bill

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L.A. day laborers, supporters lined up in April for a "Caravan for Essential and Excluded Workers'' to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to ensure COVID-19 related federal aid reaches day laborers, workers without legal status. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
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During the pandemic, federal stimulus money and unemployment benefits have helped some households get by. But immigrants who lack legal status can’t access either.

Community advocates are pinning hopes on an AB 826 from Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, which would provide emergency food assistance to all struggling workers, regardless of immigration status.

The bill was voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and heads for a vote before the full Senate next. The Legislature has less than two weeks to act on the bill before it adjourns for the year.

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Chris Sanchez, an advocate with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the bill would be a great help to immigrants, especially those in domestic work and the hospitality industry, who were hit soonest and hardest. Most are non‐citizen immigrant women, about a third of whom have lost their jobs, according to a report by the University of California, Merced.

“Their stomachs are empty, and their plates of food have nothing on them,” Sanchez said.

Help came for a while from California’s $75 million Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants fund, but that’s been depleted. A current effort to get cash assistance to immigrants is being run by the non-profit Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR). Foundations have given about $42 million dollars to the California Immigrant Resilience Fund be distributed to 240,000 individuals by dozens of community groups around the state.

But it only goes so far: Californians lacking legal immigration status are estimated at more than 2 million.

Meanwhile, GCIR continues to raise money for the California Immigrant Resilience Fund in hopes of meeting a $50 million goal. Efrain Escobedo, who co-chairs the GCIR board, said that fundraising has slowed down as foundations are deluged by requests for help, but his group's effort will keep going.

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“We don't have a hard fix end date like the state did,” Escobedo said. “This is about really helping families at whatever pace is needed.”

3 p.m. This story was updated to include information about AB 826 being voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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