CARES Act Omission of Millions of Immigrants Harms U.S. Citizens

In late March, Congress passed the Corona Virus Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.   As this post explains, millions of immigrants without Social Security numbers or who pay taxes with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINS) were largely excluded from eligibility for the economic impact payments.

But the CARES Act goes even further, to penalize families of these immigrants.  An economically eligible person with a Social Security number who filed taxes as “married, filing jointly” with her/his ineligible spouse would also be ineligible.  The CARES Act not only deprives such couples of their $2400 maximum payment.  It also prevents the eligible spouse from receiving her/his maximum individual $1200 economic impact payment, and the $500 payment for any dependent children under 16, unless one of the spouses were in the military.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that

due to the restriction in the CARES Act, 15.6 million people will be excluded from the stimulus payments: 10 million unauthorized immigrants, along with 3.8 million children and 1.8 million spouses who are either U.S. citizens or green-card holders.

Excluding the entire family is unduly harsh and economically short-sighted.   Even if Congress decided to omit immigrants with ITINs, prohibiting their U.S. citizen spouses and children from receiving their own  respective economic impact payments pushes families closer to the brink of desperation during this pandemic.  It also prevents them from spending these funds in their local communities, on rent, food, and basic necessities.

This is harming married couples in Maine, as described in a recent Portland Press Herald article.   And the harm reaches beyond U.S. citizens and permanent residents married to ineligible immigrants.  Many of Maine’s asylum seekers are also impacted.   Due to long delays for work permits, which asylum seekers must have to get a Social Security card, it’s not uncommon for only one asylum seeking spouse to have a Social Security number during part of a couple’s immigration application process.

At least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the CARES Act provisions preventing  U.S. citizens from receiving their economic impact payment if they are married to immigrants who lack Social Security numbers.  One lawsuit points out that the IRS found in 2014 that ITIN tax filers paid over $9 billion in taxes.  Yet, as this article about the complaint described,

“Families that contain a non-U.S. citizen spouse are particularly vulnerable to the economic dislocation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the suit read. That’s due to the clustering of such workers in hotels, food services, health care, waste services and retail trade, where the biggest job layoffs have occurred, the suit said.

The CARES Act also omits self-employed immigrants with ITINs from claiming the expanded unemployment insurance benefits created for the self-employed, a measure that once again negatively impacts their family members.

A crowdfunding initiative to raise money for Maine’s immigrants and their families who have been left out of the CARES Act economic relief provisions is accepting donations through May 30, 2020 here.

In addition to their exclusion from  CARES Act economic relief, millions of immigrants are left out of Medicaid-funded COVID-19 medical coverage provided by the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) because most immigrants, including lawful permanent residents during their first five years of residency, are ineligible for Medicaid.   The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 3.7 million uninsured immigrants will be excluded from COVID-19 testing and treatment as a result.   Fortunately, in some geographic areas, community health centers that serve the public regardless of immigration status, can step into the breach.

H.R. 6437, the  Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act would rectify many of these omissions, allowing immigrants who have worked and paid taxes with ITINs to receive economic impact payments on the same footing as those with Social Security numbers, and would ensure that immigrants, regardless of status, can get COVID-19 testing, preventative care, and treatment.  Maine’s Representative Chellie Pingree is a cosponsor of that bill.

While efforts were unsuccessful to include several of H.R. 6437’s  provisions in the most recent coronavirus relief bill, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, advocacy on this front will continue.

COVID-19  knows no immigration status boundaries.  For the nation’s public and economic health, governmental action should treat all in the U.S. equally.