SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said he has extended the unemployment call center hours to help the record 2.7 million Californians who have filed claims and created a fund to help undocumented immigrants, who comprise 10% of the state's workforce.
The Employment Development Department's call center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, rather than closing at noon Monday through Friday. Newsom extended the hours through an executive order.
Undocumented immigrants will be eligible to tap into a $125 million relief fund as they navigate through the economic upheaval unleashed by coronavirus outbreak, Newsom announced. The $2 trillion federal stimulus package did not include aid to undocumented workers.
To staff the expanded EDD hotline, Newsom said he has redeployed 600 employees for a total of 1,340 at the EDD, who will now answer phone calls and help Californians receive their unemployment checks. He took a moment to say a special thanks to all those employees who worked on Easter Sunday.
Julie Su, Secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, acknowledged that there has been a lot of frustration so far with people trying to get their unemployment insurance benefits.
She said the new hours and added employees will make speaking to a "live person" much easier.
The news was a boon for Skip Twitchell, a San Rafael labor manager for live events and concerts.
He said that after he was furloughed on March 21, he successfully applied for unemployment online, but he could not get any help with his application over the phone.
"If you need to need to call in for any advice, good luck, because I’m sure they’re utterly swamped," he said. "Any time I tried to make a phone call there was absolutely no way to get through."
In terms of the news about giving some money to undocumented immigrants, even before Newsom announced the particulars of the fund, there had been some criticism and Republican lawmaker pushback on spending taxpayer money on those who did not enter the country illegally.
But Newsom was steadfast in his support for the state's diverse workforce and that as a state, Californians care about all immigrants in this country.
Undocumented workers, who account for 10% of California's labor force, provide essential services in the state, Newsom said.
Julie Su, Secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
Because they are not eligible for stimulus money under the federal plan, Newsom said he created a $125 million Disaster Relief Fund to soften the blow from coronavirus-induced shutdown.
About 150,000 immigrants - a much smaller portion than the actual number of undocumented in the state - will be able to receive up to $1,000 per family and $500 per individual, Newsom said. People can apply next month.
The state is contributing $75 million what Newsom is calling a Disaster Relief Fund, and that money will be dispersed through a community-based model of regional nonprofits with expertise and experience serving undocumented communities. Immigrants will have to find one of these 20 nonprofits and apply for the money directly with them. More information about how to access that money will be coming within a few weeks, according to the governor's website.
The other $50 million comes from corporations and philanthropists that call themselves the Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees or GCIR. They established a separate fund, called the California Immigrant Resilience Fund, with initial donations of $5.5 million. Donors include the Emerson Collective, Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Endowment, The James Irvine Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and an anonymous donor, among others.
On top of what Newsom announced, there has already been additional fundraising from teachers and other nonprofits around the state and country.
Many local non-profits that assist immigrants have already been fund-raising to provide cash relief.
"It's been really overwhelming, we receive as many as 300 calls every day from people who have lost their jobs at a car wash, in a restaurant, as babysitters," said Lucia Martel-Dow, Director of Immigration Legal Services at Canal Alliance.
The organization is based in San Rafael's predominantly Latino Canal District, serving Marin County's immigrant community.
"We are part of the economy and I think COVID-19 just highlights the inequities we have," said Martel-Dow.
Advocacy groups applaud the governor's move, noting undocumented immigrants pay more than $2 billion in state and local taxes annually in California.
"There's no 'us versus them', we are all in this together, including immigrants," said Martel-Dow.
"We need to stand together in this crisis because everyone needs to be protected and we all need help."
The money will be helpful to people like Marcos Saul Aurora Gonzalez and his girlfriend, who live in San Francisco and are undocumented. Both haven’t worked for the last month. He’s a day laborer. She cleans houses.
Last weekend, Gonzalez said unless he got some help, his money would run out by the end of the week, which would be catastrophic.
However, in the last few days, Gonzalez has been able to find work cleaning hotel rooms and has been the beneficiary of some individual Bay Area nonprofits and residents who have wanted to help him.
To file an unemployment claim in California, click here. Contact EDD representatives at 1-800-480-3287 for Disability Insurance or 1-877-238-4373 for Paid Family Leave.
If you want to contribute to undocumented immigrants, go to www.immigrantfundCA.org.
California has developed an immigrant resource guide to provide information about COVID-19 related assistance, including public benefits, that are available to immigrant Californians.
Here are FAQs on the fund: https://www.immigrantfundca.org/faqs.
List of 20 nonprofits that will be administering the grant money to undocumented immigrants can be found here.
BAY AREA FUNDS TO HELP THE UNDOCUMENTED
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif. KTVU Reporters Debora Villalon and Caroline Hart contributed to this report. Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.