A Critical Group of Texans Are Left Out of COVID Recovery

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Texas immigrants are an integral part of our community and our economy.  During the COVID-19 crisis, however, Texas immigrants and undocumented workers have been systematically excluded from federal and state relief. As Texas, and the rest of the nation, reports unprecedented levels of unemployment, our leaders are still excluding immigrants from life-saving support. 

Unemployment Insurance (UI), in particular, has been critical for supporting Texas families during the pandemic. However, UI does not support the undocumented immigrants who directly contribute to this program. Nationwide, undocumented immigrants contributed about $13 billion in unemployment insurance taxes in the past 10 years. In Texas, as in all other states, UI taxes are funded on a per-employee basis and are split between federal and state trust funds. Every state sets their own payroll tax rates to support the state trust fund, and, according to analysis conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) for the Fiscal Policy Institute, Texas employers pay $321 on average per employee annually. 

This same analysis by ITEP found that taxes on wages from the estimated 959,000 undocumented workers in Texas contributed over $1.5 billion to UI between 2010 and 2019, $1.3 billion of which went to the state trust and over $200 million to the federal trust. Although they contribute significant amounts of funding to both the state and federal government, undocumented immigrants have always been excluded from UI benefits and continue to be excluded despite significant expansion of the program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Immigrants authorized to work in the U.S. have also so far been excluded from COVID-19 relief. The one-time stimulus payments provided by the CARES Act left out many families by requiring that every member of a household have a Social Security Number. The latest recovery legislation being considered by Congress, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, is attempting to address this gap by allowing households that include members with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security Number to be eligible tax rebate payments and also includes a retroactive change to the CARES Act to ensure those households receive retroactive payments they missed out on in the CARES Act. ITEP estimates that providing stimulus payments to the over one million Texans in ITIN households through the HEROES Act and the CARES Act (retroactively) would provide an additional $2 billion to hardworking Texas households. 

Passing the HEROES Act would provide critical support to many Texas immigrants and their families, but would still leave out undocumented immigrants experiencing the same financial pressures as their coworkers and neighbors. Just as Congress is now considering ways to support immigrant families left out of pandemic response and economic recovery efforts, Texas leaders should take additional action to ensure that everyone has access to the health care, nutrition and income support they need to continue their contributions to our communities and economy. A recent study by Rice University found that for every $1 the Texas government spends on the estimated 1.6 million undocumented residents living in the state, undocumented immigrants generate $1.21 in tax revenue.

Ignoring the health and economic needs of undocumented immigrants is dehumanizing, counterproductive to our collective efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, and inhibits economic recovery. By standing together and making sure each and every one of us — whether Black or White, Latino or Asian, native or newcomer — has the support and resources we need, we can prevail through these hardships.

This blog was written by CPPP Legislative & Policy Intern Martin Martinez.

At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we believe in a Texas that offers everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. We want the best Texas - a proud state that sets the bar nationally by expanding opportunity for all. CPPP is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We dare Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.