On the first day that California’s coronavirus relief program for illegal or undocumented immigrants went live, the phone lines crashed within an hour because so many people were trying to take advantage, according to The New York Times.
The program will offer $500 per person of $1,000 per household to up to 150,000 illegal immigrant Californians. An estimated 2 million of the nation’s nearly 11 million illegal immigrants reside in California. Aid is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, which fueled the early onslaught of calls.
The state enlisted the help of 12 nonprofit groups to vet applications and take calls. One organization, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, reported more than 600,000 calls in the first 90 minutes after phone lines opened.
Some people seeking the benefits reportedly spent hours trying to call in without being able to get through, with many just receiving a message to call again later.
California officials justify the program by pointing out that unauthorized workers make up about 10% of the state’s total workforce and are more likely to work in low-income jobs that have been eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as food service and hotel work.
“Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said when the program was unveiled in April. “We are all in this together.”
The program is costing the state $75 million, with $50 million more coming in from private groups. Newsom has said California is in a dire financial situation with a $54.3 billion deficit, and desperately in need of federal aid.
“I hope they’ll consider this; the next time they want to salute and celebrate our heroes, our first responders, our police officers and firefighters, consider the fact that they are the first ones who will be laid off by cities and counties,” Newsom said Sunday, when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper what would happen if California doesn’t get federal assistance.