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Immigrants Seeking State Cash Aid During COVID-19 Crisis Jam Phone Lines

Street vendor Lucas Tax sells inflatable toys and cotton candy outside the California Science Center at Exposition Park in Los Angeles on March 24, 2019. (Agustin Paullier/AFP via Getty Images)
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A million calls on day one -- and another million by the end of the second day.

The phone lines have been jammed non-stop at The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles since Monday's launch of a state program for immigrants struggling through the pandemic but unable to access help through traditional channels because they lack legal status.

CHIRLA is one of three local organizations helping people in Orange and Los Angeles counties file applications for cash aid, and one of a dozen designated by the state.

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"We are not going anywhere," CHIRLA's executive director Angelica Salas said in a statement. "We are working around the clock to help as many people as we can and to deal with any technical issues that might arise."

CHIRLA had to add a second phone line by Tuesday to accommodate the heavy volume of calls. Meanwhile, the state Department of Social Services which is overseeing the program had to build more capacity into its website after it crashed for more than two hours Monday from the high number of visitors.

Despite early glitches, the program is starting to deliver assistance as early as this week.

CHIRLA spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera said the organization is mailing out the first batch of debit cards on Thursday.

Massive anticipation had built up in the month since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new relief fund. The program offers $500 for individual adults and up to $1,000 for a household.

Advocates say interest in Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants is so high because workers without legal status do not qualify for a federal stimulus check. Nor are they allowed to apply for unemployment insurance, even though many pay income taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number.

Yet with stay-at-home orders and businesses closing, these workers are losing jobs in the coronavirus crisis like everyone else. And those who work in low-paid service jobs aren't likely to have much in the way of savings to sustain them.


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Applicants are being considered on a first-come, first-serve basis. At the rate things are going, funding for the program may be depleted before the June 30 end date.

The state has reserved $75 million and is raising more money through philanthropies and grassroots donations. But California has more than 2 million residents who lack legal immigration status. It's estimated that the state relief fund will only help about 150,000 of them.

"It is clear that much more has to be done to help our immigrant communities who are struggling in the midst of this crisis," said Stewart Kwoh, founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, one of the local organizations chosen by the state to help applicants.

The other local group is Central American Resource Center.

To apply for the program, contact a state-designated organization in your region:

Los Angeles and Orange County:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
(213) 241-8880
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
(213) 201-8700
Los Angeles Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
(213) 315-2659

Inland Empire:
San Bernardino Community Service Center
(888) 444-0170, (909) 521-7535
Covering Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino

TODEC Legal Center Perris
(888) 863-3291
Covering Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino

Central Coast:

Mixteco / Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
Santa Barbara: (805) 519-7776
Ventura: (805) 519-7774

Community Action Board Santa Cruz
(800) 228-6820
Covering Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz

This story has been updated.

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