As immigrant communities continue to be left out of federal COVID-19 relief and are unequally impacted by the pandemic’s economic downturn, a Democratic lawmaker is introducing a bill that seeks to expand a state food assistance program to Californians regardless of their immigration status.
Senate Bill 464, introduced by state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, on Wednesday would allow low-income undocumented immigrants to receive food-assistance benefits under the California Food Assistance Program. If passed, the expansion would commence in January 2023. To qualify, immigrants must meet all other CalFresh criteria.
“Historically, there has been a need for this type of bill, here in the state of California,” Hurtado said. “This pandemic has made matters significantly worse for many more and we need to take action immediately.”
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Undocumented Californians, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Temporary Protected Status and certain visa holders do not qualify to receive help from from either the food assistance program or from CalFresh, which is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
California is home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Jared Call, a senior advocate for Nourish CA, estimates the expansion could benefit up to 1 million undocumented Californians, but that figure might not reflect what the actual uptake would be.
“Food insecurity has been an issue within the immigrant rights community because people’s immigration status determines what kind of access they have to public programs,” said Betzabel Estudillo, a senior advocate for Nourish CA, a statewide food advocacy organization that is co-sponsoring the bill with the California Immigrant Policy Center.
Hurtado, who is the daughter of Mexicans immigrants, said her district represents one of the top food-producing regions in the nation, including Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. She said the the bill would benefit low-income immigrants who have continued working despite the pandemic.
“We are known for feeding the world, and we have a lot of (immigrants) here … that are significantly struggling,” Hurtado said. “They work hard to provide food to us and I think it’s time to change that.”
Immigrant families where farm workers are heads of household are 7 times more likely than other Americans to encounter food insecurity, according to 2016 analysis by Bread for the World.
“When COVID hit I think it really exacerbated the issue and really put it out right in front of our eyes,” Estudillo said. “It has been a long-term issue and now our immigrant communities are suffering, because these are communities that are our frontline workers. They’re the ones who are working in the grocery (stores), they’re the ones who are growing our food.”
Estudillo said there has been long-standing policies that have impacted immigrant communities from accessing federal and state-funded, food-assistance programs. Former President Donald Trump’s public charge rule, for instance, dissuaded immigrant communities from applying for state-funded benefits in fear that it would impact their pathway to citizenship, she said.
“We do think that our policy will also effectively combat against the chilling effect of public charge,” she said.
Nourish CA estimates the expansion would cost $51 million to implement between 2023-24.
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