Immigrant Status Families Hardest Hit During Pandemic: Stimulus Check Did Not Compensate For Food And Housing Insecurity

stimulus checks
Stimulus Checks

The world continues to face the unprecedented crisis brought about by the pandemic. The pandemic hit at a time when hunger had already been on the rise for over four consecutive years due to multiple factors. This includes climate-related changes, armed conflict, and economic crises. While the stimulus checks addressed a part of the issue, immigrant families continue to struggle with food and housing insecurity. 

The aftermath of COVID-19 had a profound impact on societies and the immigrant population has been the worst affected. It had deep implications for migrants and has compelled more people to move as they no longer can make ends meet in their present location. 

Migrants Without Social Security Numbers Denied Stimulus Checks

Immigrants, undocumented migrants, and other non-citizens who do not have Social Security numbers and file individual tax returns will not be entitled to stimulus checks.

The same goes for US citizen children whose parents do not have Social Security numbers. They also remain ineligible for the stimulus check.

Under the $900 billion COVID-19 relief stimulus check package under the Republican government, the administration allowed mixed-status households with undocumented family members to receive stimulus checks that they were denying during the first round of legislation in the spring of 2020, the first round of the payments. 

Under the bipartisan agreement, American citizens and holders of green cards received $600 in direct aid even if had filed their income tax return jointly with an undocumented spouse. They also received an extra $600 for each dependent child, as revealed by congressional aides and the text of the legislation. 

The subsequent compromise also retroactively allowed families with mixed status with a single Social Security number-holder eligible for $1,200 per household, plus another $500 for each child allocated by the CARES Act, enacted in March 2020.

The second stimulus check, which gave out $600, was phased out for individuals with an AGI higher than $75,000 for the 2019 financial year. Heads of households with an AGI over $112,500 in 2019 and married couples filing jointly and with an AGI of $150,000 or more had their payment gradually phased out. 

Donald Trump was strong against giving any support to families with mixed status but ultimately relented, but not before delaying the signing of the bill. He had initially threatened to veto the aid that was linked to the massive spending bill meant to fund the administration for at least one year. 

As in the first stimulus check, the second stimulus check was also not allowed to undocumented immigrants and other non-citizens who did not possess a Social Security number or file individual income tax returns in the US. US citizen children without a parent with a Social Security number also remained ineligible for both the stimulus check given out under the Trump administration. 

Even mixed-status couples were excluded from the CARES Act, the economic stimulus that was passed in the spring of 2021. This was because it required both filers of a joint tax return to have Social Security numbers and also to file individual income tax returns. 

Undocumented immigrants and other non-citizens who are ineligible for the Social Security number normally use ITIN to pay taxes. These Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers are issued to individuals who are required to have a US taxpayer identification number but who do not have one. They also may not be eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Eligibility Restriction And Other Barriers To Federal Support Through Stimulus Checks Caused Disproportionate Economic Hardship To Immigrants

Immigrant mothers experienced higher rates of food insecurity and hardship in paying house rent during the pandemic than other groups. But they also reported lesser participation in economic impact payments, a study conducted jointly by two public organizations has revealed. 

The study by the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, and the School of Public Health has revealed that immigrant people, both individuals and families, received far fewer stimulus checks and even lesser assistance from the SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program. These two programs were specifically designed to provide stopgap financial support to people the hardest hit during the pandemic and the period after. 

A survey of 1,396 caregivers between January 2018 and March 2020 in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, Little Rock, and Baltimore with children below four years revealed some disturbing facts. Immigrant mothers were found to be 63% more likely to face food insecurity in their households. 21% were most likely to report falling back or failing to clear, their mortgage or rent than families who had US-born parents. Despite this greater need, an overwhelming majority of families (96%) who had US-born mothers utilized either SNAP or EIP, while a mere 74% of those with immigrant mothers availed of one of the programs. 

It is clear from these programs that policy leaders need to think about how assistance policies like stimulus checks and SNAP roll out in real-life situations. They should realize who needs the most help and who can be left behind when they design policies. There is much scope for improvement, the research reveals. The results stressed the immediate need to improve the 5-year bar on blocking otherwise eligible immigrants from participating in programs like SNAP. 

When compared to the period before the pandemic, families having young children who are behind on mortgage and rent have more than doubled from 18 to 41 percent. Families facing acute food insecurity have increased from 21 to 34 percent, the fresh data reveals. 

Congress passed certain relief packages between March 2020 and March 2021 designating trillion in aid to prop up the US economy even as they responded to the hardship faced by families and individuals. This included streamlined access to higher amounts of benefits from EIP payments and SNAP recipients. 

The statistics reveal a heavily skewered policy that goes against immigrant families. It is a call to move in to ensure more equity. This drive could benefit all deserving families, particularly Latino, Black, immigrants, and similarly marginalized groups. Without this inclusive design in policy, we will lose the chance to bring down inequities and instead face the prospect of making such glaring differences much larger. 

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