Gov. Ned Lamont struck a partnership Wednesday with critics in the immigrant-rights community, promising $3.5 million in state and philanthropic dollars to help undocumented families ineligible for federal pandemic relief.
The state Department of Housing will provide $2.5 million to landlords whose undocumented tenants have fallen behind on rent, and a charity, 4-CT.org, will provide $1 million to be distributed to families screened for need by community groups.
With an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut, the $1 million in direct aid is modest, just $8.33 per person if it were to be distributed evenly.
“It is a good start, but just let me be very clear: It is not enough. The need is great, and families are desperate,” said Kica Matos, the director of the Vera Institute’s Center on Immigration and Justice.
Lamont outlined the new program on the lawn outside the Hartford office of an immigrant-aid group, Make the Road Connecticut.
In 2018, 29,000 households filed taxes in Connecticut with an individual taxpayer identification number, a tax processing number available to those who are ineligible for a Social Security number. Of these, 7,760 filed taxes jointly with a U.S. citizen.
Best estimates are that undocumented workers comprise nearly 5% of the workforce in Connecticut and pay more than $100 million in state and local taxes, but they and their U.S.-born children are ineligible for federally funded aid. That leaves them unable to apply for unemployment, assistance under the federal CARES Act or SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program.
“No monetary support at all — 2.5 months of thinking about should they pay bills, should they buy food or should they buy medicine,” said Barbara López, director of Make the Road. “I just want you to understand the impact of not having any income and no support, when this government, this country tells us, ‘You have no status. You have no humanity.’ ”
The Lamont administration largely side-stepped questions about the use of state taxpayer dollars for the undocumented by using state dollars for rental assistance that will go directly to landlords and philanthropy for direct aid.
“While more support for these families is needed, this is an important starting point, and we plan to move quickly to make this assistance available,” Lamont said. “I urge other philanthropic leaders to help grow the pot and meet the needs of impacted families. To these residents of Connecticut, I want you to know that you are not forgotten.”
Advocates say they would like to see a second phase of aid, with at least $30 million.
Asked about additional aid, Lamont said, “We’ll see.”
The limited aid in Connecticut comes two weeks after California became the first state to offer financial aid to undocumented immigrants, taking applications for help under a $125 million public-private relief fund.
Lamont has been under pressure for weeks to provide similar help, including a protest at the Capitol last week, as Matos reminded him.
“As the governor might remember, just six days ago, I was one of the group of advocates supporters and families that was circling the Capitol in a car caravan and rallying the governor to urge him to set up an economic relief fund for the undocumented,” said Matos, a former deputy mayor in New Haven.
She said the undocumented community was doubly hit: The new jobless had no access to aid, and those who remained employed were exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“They have been on the front lines of this pandemic,” Matos said. “What have they been doing? They have been taking care of our sick. They have been taking care of our elderly. They have been looking after our kids. They have been cleaning our hospitals. They have been working in our factories. And they have been cooking our food.”
Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said she still was working on details of the rental assistance. Ted Yang, the former hedge fund investor and serial entrepreneur who is the chief executive and co-founder of 4-CT.org, said the $1 million in direct aid would be distributed on debit cards.
“We are partnering together with community organizations and community health centers,” Yang said.
Lamont said the one-time direct aid would have a secondary benefit of bringing recipients to health clinics, where they would be offered free COVD-19 testing. Matos said community groups would do initial screening, then refer families to the health clinics.
“The idea is that these community-based organizations work with families in need and undocumented families in need,” Matos said. “They know them. They know who they are. They would be the ones to identify families in need.”
The debit cards, deemed 4-CT cards, would carry either $200 or $400. The amount given would depend on how the pandemic impacted the family and what other support is available to them, Matos said.
In New Haven, Unidad Latina en Acción would do the screening, making referrals to Fair Haven Community Health Care.
Members of the community organization, which also is known as ULA, were unimpressed.
“One million dollars is like giving a few coins to every immigrant in our state,” Carmen Lanche, the coordinator of ULA in Norwalk, said in an emailed statement. “What’s more, this $1 million does not even come out of the coffers of the state that swell every year with the hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed by our community — the undocumented workers who are ‘essential’ and excluded.”
The 4-CT.org charity was founded in response to the pandemic, and it works through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Yang said $18 million has been pledged, with much of the money coming from family foundations managed by the Hartford Foundation.
About $10 million has been paid to food banks.
After calling the new program a good start, Matos turned towards Lamont and Yang, who stood behind her. She smiled and said, “I urge — and Governor, I’m going to continue to push you and you, Ted, as well, to make sure — this state, the legislators and the governor work aggressively to continue to grow this pot of money.”