On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have given an additional $600 to low-income illegal immigrants in California for food assistance, stating that the state’s general fund could not handle such a large program.
$600 in relief for qualified applicants, limited relief for illegal immigrants since March
Assembly Bill 826, authored by Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), would have created a new food assistance program funded by the state’s general fund. The $600 in benefits would have gone to adults who self-attested to be eligible for such a program, with illegal immigrants expected to be the largest beneficiaries due to AB 826 allowing all ‘undocumented workers’ to be eligible. The payment would have come in pre-paid card form in 2 $300 intervals.
Assemblyman Santiago had written the bill largely to help people in need of food during the pandemic, but also to help illegal immigrant families who have not been given much assistance since the start of the pandemic in March.
“Every now and then you’re going to see a mother with two kids wrapped up on the floor waiting,” said Santiago earlier this year when questioned about the bill. “The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has doubled the amount of people they are serving since the pandemic hit, and food banks across the state are experiencing similar increases.”
While the bill specifically says that funds would go to low-income people in general, previous funding iterations have excluded illegal immigrants from getting any relief, including COVID-19 relief programs in the budget signed earlier this year. While there have been some local relief programs for illegal immigrants, California has only authorized one such program. Authorized in April, the illegal-immigrant assistance program gave a one-time $500 card to those chosen for the program. Assistance went to only 155,000 people, with hundreds of thousands more not chosen. The need of the approximately 2 million illegal immigrants in California was so great that they actually crashed the website to sign up earlier this year.
A program likely costing hundreds of millions of dollars
With many still needing help later this year, Democratic lawmakers made a push to pass the bill. Democrats eventually all voted for the bill in both the Assembly and Senate in August, with only Republicans either abstaining or voting NO on the bill due to the financial ramifications.
“AB 826 came up a few times,” Capitol staffer “Dana,” told the Globe. “While the immigrant part was a concern, the main issue people had with it was the funding. The bill wasn’t giving any hard numbers. And remember, the earlier immigrant funding in April was funded for $75 million, and that only covered a small minority of undocumented immigrants. Many figured that AB 826 would be in the hundreds of millions if passed as there was no real limit on how many could apply.”
“Carte blanche programs scare a lot of lawmakers, especially when there is a budget deficit.”
And on Tuesday, the concern over the program’s cost led to the Governor’s veto.
In a veto statement, the Governor specifically said that the massive impact on the state’s general fund would be too great, while also noting that other programs to help low-income Californians and illegal immigrants during he pandemic were being advanced.
“It has been my firm commitment that my Administration would support all California during COVID-19 crisis,” Newsom said in his veto on Tuesday. “To that end, my Administration has advanced efforts to provide relief that is both inclusive of and directed to undocumented Californians.”
“As we continue to address the needs of California during the pandemic, it is prudent to address needs of Californians during the pandemic, it is prudent to consider the most appropriate and responsible means to offer support to those in need. Given the significant General Fund impact annually that this bill would have, I am unable to sign this measure.”
More vetoes from Governor Newsom are expected on Wednesday, the last day he can approve or veto passed bills this year.
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