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Nov. 26, 2022

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Undocumented immigrants can apply for Washington COVID-19 relief funds

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Undocumented immigrants in Washington affected by COVID-19 can now apply for a new round of financial relief, as part of an unprecedented $340 million fund approved last year by the state legislature.

Eligible people can apply to the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund and receive at least $1,000 via check or prepaid card, delivered some time between December and January.

Undocumented immigrants affected by the pandemic — including those who lost jobs, had hours cut, contracted the virus, fell behind on housing and utility bills and cared for a family member who tested positive — are eligible.

Applications for the fund opened Monday and will be accepted until Nov. 14. The exact amount of money distributed to each recipient will depend on how many people apply.

The program aims to fill the gap left by other programs launched during the pandemic that undocumented immigrants were ineligible for, such as expanded unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks.

Undocumented immigrants have “been on the front lines of our communities and economy,” said Brenda Rodríguez López, executive director of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, or WAISN, which will oversee the rollout of the relief program.

“The pandemic was difficult for all of us and a moment of crisis for all communities, but the pandemic exacerbated the inequities immigrants face on a daily basis,” Rodríguez López said.

Eligible applicants must live in Washington, be at least 18 years old and have experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic. Applicants must not have received federal stimulus funds or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status.

People who were able to get federal relief during the pandemic because of their specific immigration status — such as some refugees, asylum seekers and DACA recipients — are not eligible for the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund.

With this latest infusion of money, Washington has allocated a total of roughly $467 million toward helping alleviate the burdens on undocumented immigrants during the pandemic.

New York, California and Oregon operate similar funds, as do some local governments, including Seattle and King County.

In fall of 2020 during the first round of COVID-19 relief to Washington’s undocumented immigrants, about 94,000 people applied over two months, Rodríguez López said. In February 2021, during the most recent round of relief, organizers had to close applications after more than 60,000 applied within two weeks. That’s a sign of the outstanding need, she said.

“Even though a one-time check was helpful for our communities, it was not enough for immigrants who were entirely left out of all safety nets,” Rodríguez López said.

Money for the fund comes from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. But a group of immigrant-led organizations, including WAISN, are managing the fund.

WAISN officials stress they will not share applications or personal information with the government, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or law enforcement. Receiving relief through the fund will also not prevent someone from seeking a green card, officials said.

More than 240,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state, according to a 2019 analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Migration Policy Institute. About 5% of the state’s workforce is made up of undocumented workers, according to the Center for American Progress.

The pandemic inflicted a distinct burden on undocumented immigrants, many of whom could not seek or feared seeking medical care during the public health crisis for a slew of reasons, including language barriers, high costs, a lack of medical insurance and fears of deportation.

Immigrants also experienced higher unemployment compared to U.S.-born workers in 2020, in part because many work in industries hit harder by COVID-19 such as construction and hospitality. Those who didn’t get laid off or see their hours cut were often working low-paying essential jobs that required them to work in-person and risk exposure.

Applications are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and English. Several community groups are also available to assist people looking to apply in additional languages.

To apply for the fund, visit www.immigrantreliefwa.org or call the WAISN hotline at 1-844-724-3737.

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