Should Undocumented Immigrants Get State Relief?
They help build state’s Unemployment Insurance trust, but are ineligible for benefits.
Undocumented immigrants have played a part in depositing over a hundred million dollars in Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance trust fund over the past decade, yet the federal government excludes them from collecting unemployment benefits paid for from the fund. This exclusion is part of a larger pattern in which workers who are undocumented are shut out of receiving most forms of assistance available during the economic crisis, even if they have paid into the system that provides the support.
Unemployment Insurance in Wisconsin is supported by trust funds that are financed by a tax that employers pay to the state, and a smaller tax that they pay to the federal government. Both taxes are paid on a per-employee basis.
Despite the fact that their work results in significant contributions to the trust funds, undocumented workers are blocked from receiving federal or state unemployment benefits — both the regular benefits as well as the expanded benefits available to help workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Federal lawmakers also excluded undocumented immigrants, along with their citizen children and spouses, from receiving the direct stimulus payments that the federal government paid to most residents to help ease economic hardship.
Some state and local governments have taken action to counteract the exclusion of undocumented workers from unemployment benefits by setting up funds to step in where the federal government has fallen short. Both California and New York City have worked with a consortium of foundations to create funds separate from Unemployment Insurance to help undocumented workers with one-time payments.
Unemployment benefits directly help jobless workers, but also help everyone else by stimulating the economy. Jobless workers spend their benefits on necessities at local businesses, creating economic demand and giving a boost to their communities. Excluding some immigrant workers from receiving these benefits can have much larger impact, reducing economic activity and making it harder for communities to thrive.