California Bill Would Give Unemployment Benefits to Illegal Immigrants

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California Bill Would Give Unemployment Benefits to Illegal Immigrants

A man who is unemployed waits in line to enter a bookkeeping shop near the U.S.–Mexico border in Calexico, Calif., on July 24, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler

2/1/2024

Updated: 2/7/2024

Commentary
On Jan. 1, illegal immigrants in California received free medical care. That was thanks to Assembly Bill 133, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in July 2021. Cost: $4 billion more per year, as an estimated 764,000 illegal immigrants are added to the already stuffed rolls of the 14.6 million Californians on Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the Medicare program.
At the signing almost three years ago, Mr. Newsom exclaimed, “We’re investing California’s historic surplus to accomplish transformative changes we’ve long dreamed of—including this historic Medi-Cal expansion to ensure thousands of older undocumented Californians, many of whom have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, can access critical health care services.”
Oops! That was when the state enjoyed a nearly $100 billion budget surplus. Now it’s suffering a deficit of $38 billion, according to Mr. Newsom’s Jan. 10 budget proposal. Or $58 billion, according to the legislative analyst’s Jan. 13 analysis of that proposal.
Next up: Senate Bill 277, by state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Democrat. It would give unemployment benefits to illegal aliens. According to the analysis by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“This bill establishes, until January 1, 2027, upon appropriation by the Legislature, the Excluded Workers Program (EWP) administered by the Employment Development Department (EDD) to provide income assistance to workers ineligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits,” the analysis reads.
And here are the new costs:
  • $270.7 million to set up the program. The taxpayer dollars would go “primarily to develop a new information technology (IT) system.“ The analysis reads: ”EDD’s UI program is a federal-state partnership, with the current IT system largely funded through federal grants. However, federal rules would preclude EDD from using existing systems to administer the EWP, thus requiring EDD to establish a new, separate IT system exclusively for the EWP.”
  • Annual costs to run the IT system “ranging from $39.3 million to $53.8 million.”
  • “Ongoing costs of benefit amounts, ranging from $330 million to $2 billion, paid to EWP claimants.”
Here’s the problem, though. Health care involves an actual, physical patient needing to be patched up or given medications or preventive medicine. So there’s a limit. But giving unemployment benefits to illegal aliens would make the EDD system even more ripe for fraud than it already is. Many illegal immigrants pay into the system now. But how do we know that they’re actually doing the work claimed? What if they’re laid off officially, collect EDD benefits, but then are hired back unofficially for the same jobs? By definition, “illegal” involves at least some measure of illegality.
Employment Development Department paperwork in Irvine, Calif., on April 2, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Employment Development Department paperwork in Irvine, Calif., on April 2, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

EDD Fraud

Then there’s the EDD’s long-existing fraud problems. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of Jan. 24, the EDD still owes the federal government $20 billion borrowed to pay for the massive fraud committed on its system during the unemployment crisis in 2020 from COVID-19.
And in October 2023, CalMatters reported on the cost for each California employee: “The current debt has triggered a $21 increase per employee that employers must pay in payroll taxes starting this year. Employers’ rates will keep rising an additional $21 per employee each year until the state pays off the debt to the federal government, for a total of $945 per employee through 2031, according to projections by the Legislative Analyst’s Office based on the average state unemployment insurance tax rate.”
The “employer” payment, by the way, over the long term is actually paid, through reduced wages, by those employees at the company.
In explaining the bill in June 2023, Ms. Durazo’s website shamelessly pulled the “race card”: “SB 227 would address a longstanding racist exclusion that has had a devastating economic impact on immigrant communities, California’s industries, and the wellbeing of our state particularly during times of disaster, such as wildfires and historic winter storms. Millions of undocumented immigrant workers work in jobs that help California prosper; they are unable to access unemployment benefits when they experience job loss.”
Actually, if SB 227 hits the state budget for $2 billion—or maybe a lot more if the EDD’s fraud risk crops up again—everyone, of all races, creeds, and colors, will be hurt by either cuts to other state programs or tax increases. Moreover, also included should be benefits that illegal immigrants get already, beginning with the aforementioned Medi-Cal care, plus free education for their children in public schools.
Illegal immigrants who passed through a gap in the U.S. border wall await processing by Border Patrol agents in Jacumba, Calif., on Dec. 7, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Illegal immigrants who passed through a gap in the U.S. border wall await processing by Border Patrol agents in Jacumba, Calif., on Dec. 7, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Tough to Make SB 227 Law

Last year, numerous rallies were held across the state for SB 227. CBS News Bay Area reported on April 13, 2023, that “a group of workers from the Bay Area and across California gathered at the State Capitol on Thursday, urging lawmakers to pass a bill to make unemployment benefits available to undocumented immigrants.”
“After almost an hour and a half, the bus reached Sacramento. More than 100 undocumented workers from all over the state were already gathered,” the report reads.
The bill was not passed last year but continued to 2024.
“Probably the earliest action that could take place on that would be June,” Jennifer Richard, Ms. Durazo’s chief of staff, told me. “But the most important part would be seeing if there was some kind of funding in the budget. And right now that’s not looking so good because of the budget shortfall that we’re facing.”
There’s the rub: The $38 billion or $58 billion budget deficit. Even if SB 227 passes the Legislature, it would likely face a veto by Mr. Newsom. Indeed, in 2022 he vetoed a similar bill, Assembly Bill 2847, because of budget concerns.
As I wrote in The Epoch Times on Jan. 19 in “California Gov. Newsom’s 2024 Presidential Hopes Fade,” he’s looking to 2028. He’s term-limited as governor, so he doesn’t have to care about getting reelected here.
But he has to get that budget deficit under control, or it will be a heavy albatross hanging around his neck once he leaves office in January 2027 and takes aim at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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