BOSTON — While many Americans still await stimulus checks from the federal government, state lawmakers are considering a plan to provide similar benefits to immigrant workers who are ineligible for the federal program.
A proposal backed by dozens of Democrats would require the state Department of Revenue to provide $1,200 checks to undocumented immigrants who work in the state and pay taxes but have been locked out of the federal stimulus program. The effort would cost the state an estimated $58.2 million, its supporters say.
Many of the lawmakers who support the proposal represent communities such as Salem, Lawrence and Lynn, with large populations of immigrant workers who won't be getting a stimulus check.
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, one of nearly 50 co-signers of the bill, said he sees the issue as a matter of fairness.
"These folks have paid into the tax system and are hurting during this crisis, just like the rest of us," he said. "A lot of these immigrants are working on the front lines of health care and other industries, doing some of the most difficult jobs. For them not to get a stimulus check is just grossly unfair."
Others backing the proposal include Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, and Reps. Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover, and Frank Moran, D-Lawrence.
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said she supports the concept of helping tax-paying immigrant workers — specifically mixed families who don't qualify for the stimulus payments — but said the state "can't afford it" at this point.
Republican lawmakers also oppose the move, arguing that the state is facing massive revenue shortfalls and can't afford to create its own stimulus program.
"We don't have the money," said Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich. "We're in dire straights right now and don't know how much will be left in the pot to do anything."
Several other lawmakers representing the North of Boston region didn't return calls seeking comment.
The CARES Act, a federal law approved in response to the coronavirus, provides one-time $1,200 relief payments to Americans who makes less than $75,000 per year, as well as $500 for each child under 17. Couples who make less than $198,000 and file their taxes jointly can get up to $2,400.
But the law stipulates that taxpayers who file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, rather than a Social Security Number, are ineligible. Non-citizens who work in the U.S. have tax ID numbers, as do many immigrants living illegally in the country who nonetheless work and pay federal, state and local taxes.
Also left out of the federal stimulus are immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens and file joint federal tax returns, as well as their spouses.
Immigrant rights groups have sued the government challenging those provisions and arguing that the law unfairly excludes workers.
The fate of the legislation on Beacon Hill isn't clear. A Senate version of the bill is before the Rules Committee, but a similar bill in the House of Representatives hasn't been moved to a committee. There haven't been hearings on either bills.
The left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimates the state's proposal would benefit about 57,000 individuals.
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said advocates want to go further by including financial help for undocumented immigrants who don't have tax ID numbers but still work in the state.
"We want to see a fund that channels assistance to these communities through nonprofits, and doesn't discriminate based on immigration status," she said.
The move is also strongly opposed by the state's Republican Party, which says it would encourage illegal immigration and hurt low-skilled American workers hit-hard by the pandemic.
"At a time when everyone is struggling, something like this would be completely unfair to the hard-working taxpayers of Massachusetts," MassGOP chairman Jim Lyons said. "Before we take money and give it to non-citizens, we need to take care of our own."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org