BY CEDAR ATTANASIO, SANTA FE, N.M. (AP):- New Mexico officials have received tens of thousands of applications for virus relief payments meant for residents regardless of immigration status.
State lawmakers recently approved $5 million in emergency financial assistance for low-income residents who did not receive a federal stimulus payment earlier this year. That includes immigrants in the country illegally, as well as spouses and children.
Immigrant advocacy groups are working to inform residents of a Friday deadline to apply for the aid, which could total as much as $750 per person.
“It still hasn’t been determined how much it will be,” Margarita Mendez of the New Mexico Human Services Department said during a presentation hosted by the Las Cruces group CAFé. “The funds will be granted to applicants with the lowest incomes.”
With over 30,000 requests submitted in the first five days of the application window, demand for relief is far outpacing the Legislature’s allocation.
The Human Services Department has discretion in distributing the funds. It could send smaller amounts to more people or use available tax information to prioritize the most needy.
The emergency aid is part of a $330 million stimulus package approved by lawmakers last month. Included in the seven-page bill was a provision for $750 payments to individuals who were not eligible for the $1,200 federal relief checks sent earlier this year.
The vast majority of immigrants in the country without legal permission work and pay taxes but are not eligible for federal welfare programs or the unemployment insurance they pay into.
In New Mexico, where the majority of immigrants are from Mexico and Central American countries, Latino-focused organizing groups say financial assistance is a public health issue. Like other frontline workers, immigrants without legal status faced unpaid furloughs while awaiting tests or had to decide if they would take time off work after testing positive for COVID-19.
“When you have people in that situation who have no access to the relief that other people have access to, what that means is that people have to weigh at that moment when they’ve been out of work for so many months whether or not they actually get tested, whether they actually quarantine,” said Marcela Díaz of Somos un Pueblo Unido, which has been instrumental in lobbying for direct cash assistance at the state and city level.
City governments are also spending portions of their relief funds to send direct payments to immigrants. In Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces, cities are offering between $750 and $2,000 per household.
While some homeless residents and dependents may ultimately qualify for the $750 payment, the vast majority will be immigrants or their U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident spouses who were excluded from the federal relief.
Spouses and their children were excluded if they file taxes jointly with someone who does not have a Social Security number. Meanwhile, many non-resident visa holders such as immigrant students did receive a stimulus check.
All stimulus payments are expected to be sent out by the end of December.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.