If you’re an immigrant living in California, here is what you need to know to protect yourself, your family, and your community from Coronavirus (COVID-19). Services and public benefits are available to you, some regardless of immigration status. And special assistance for immigrant Californians who don’t qualify for other programs will be available in May 2020.
What to do if You Think You're Sick
If you have health insurance through your employer, Medi-Cal or Covered California, or another source:
Call ahead: If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19 or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, call your healthcare provider or local county public health department first before seeking medical care so that can advise you on next steps.
The State of California is taking some steps to ensure that cost does not inhibit an enrollee's access to medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19. This includes instructing health insurance plans and health insurance companies regulated by the state that they should waive any cost-sharing for all medical necessary screening and testing for COVID-19. The State does not regulate certain health insurance plans offered through employment or the Medicare program. If you are concerned about the potential cost of screening and testing for COVID-19, please contact your health insurance company.
If you don’t have health insurance:
Call ahead: If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19, or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, please call your local county public health department or your usual source of health care for additional instructions for any screening or testing.
Your information is confidential and will only be utilized to limit further spread of the virus and support appropriate treatment. The public health department may have assistance in various languages.
How to Protect Yourself
- Stay home when sick.
- Remain at home until fever has been gone for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
- Seek immediate medical care if symptoms become more severe, e.g., high fever or difficulty breathing. If you don’t have a regular health care provider, reach out your local public health department.
- Use "respiratory etiquette".
- Cover cough with a tissue or sleeve. See CDC’s Cover Your Cough page (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm) for multilingual posters and flyers, posted at the bottom of webpage.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Encourage hand washing by individual, caregivers, family, and friends.
- Provide hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol to supplement hand washing.
- Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces.
Testing and Treatment
Don’t let fear stop you from getting necessary treatment, as the effects of avoiding health care services may be very serious. This will help keep you, your family, and your community healthy.
Even if you are undocumented and/or don’t have insurance, you can get necessary testing and treatment for COVID-19 through Medi-Cal emergency services, even at a local clinic. Medi-Cal care for COVID-19-related testing or treatment does not count under the public charge rule because it is the treatment of an emergency medical condition.
Guide for Immigrant Californians
The Guide for Immigrant Californians will help you stay safe and informed.
The guide includes:
- Stay-at-home order considerations
- Ways to protect yourself and others
- Immigration help
- Public charge information for accessing public benefits
- Testing and treatment
- Information on jobs, wages, and benefits
- Small business support
- Food and bills
- Community safety
- Protection against scams and bad information
Learn more in the Guide for Immigrant Californians. [PDF]
Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants
On April 15, Governor Newsom announced one-time disaster relief assistance for undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19, who are ineligible for most other forms of pandemic assistance, including direct assistance under the CARES Act and unemployment insurance.
Eligible Californians may receive one-time COVID-19 disaster relief assistance at a value of $500. A limit of two adults per household can receive this assistance (maximum assistance of $1,000 per household).
The CA Department of Social Services (CDSS) will select immigrant-serving community-based nonprofit organizations to conduct targeted outreach, application assistance, and delivery of the disaster relief assistance to eligible individuals. The selected organizations will deliver the assistance directly to qualified individuals. CDSS’ goal is for Californians to be able to access this relief through local community-based nonprofits starting mid-May 2020. A final date will be provided in the coming week.
Immigrant Eligibility for Public Programs During COVID-19
- Health Care
The Families First Act provides funding for COVID-19 testing for the uninsured and gives states the option to provide testing to certain uninsured individuals through their Medicaid programs.
The CARES Act also increases and extends funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs).
Under existing law, individuals who lose health coverage (due to job loss, for example), may qualify for a special enrollment period in the Marketplaces, including the federal Healthcare.gov Marketplace. Some state-based marketplaces have elected to generally allow enrollment during the COVID-19 crisis.
Neither the CARES Act nor the Families First Act alters Medicaid eligibility for immigrants.
Some states have defined testing and treatment for suspected COVID virus as emergency services covered by their Emergency Medicaid programs. Emergency Medicaid is available regardless of immigration status, but applicants must meet their state’s other Medicaid eligibility requirements. In states that have not expanded Medicaid, for example, a non-pregnant adult without disabilities or children may not be eligible for services.
CHCs provide primary and preventive health care to everyone regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.
Immigrants who are lawfully present may be eligible to buy subsidized health insurance in the Marketplaces.
Public Charge Implications
USCIS has announced that testing, prevention, or treatment for COVID-19 will NOT be used against immigrants in a public charge test. Immigrant families should seek the care they need during this difficult time.
- Cash Assistance
Under the CARES Act, most individuals earning less than $75,000 are eligible for a one-time cash payment of $1,200. Married couples will each receive a check and families will get $500 per child.
To be eligible for a cash rebate, individual filers and their spouse if filing jointly must have valid Social Security Numbers (SSNs). However, there is an exception for spouses filing jointly where at least one spouse was in armed forces last tax year and at least one spouse has a valid SSN. Children claimed as dependents for the $500 rebate must have valid SSNs.
Public Charge Implications
The stimulus payment is a tax credit. The public charge regulation is clear that tax credits are NOT taken into account in a public charge determination.
- See page 11 of this Policy Brief on Key Provisions of COVID-19 Relief Bills (NILC)
- Food Assistance
Allows states to provide emergency supplemental SNAP benefits up to the maximum monthly benefit amount to many participating SNAP households to address temporary food needs.
Establishes a new program – called Pandemic EBT or “P-EBT” – that allows states to provide meal-replacement benefits for households with children who attend a school that has closed and who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals. Monthly benefits of up to $125 per child will be loaded onto an EBT card.
Other Nutrition Programs
Provides additional funding for WIC, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and home-delivered meal program.
Only certain non-citizens are eligible for SNAP, such as asylees, refugees, and some green card holders (see below). Parents who are not eligible for SNAP can apply for their eligible household members, such as U.S. citizen children.
P-EBT is available regardless of immigration status.
Households do not have to be enrolled in SNAP in order to be eligible.
WIC, TEFAP, and home-delivered meals are available regardless of immigration status.
Public Charge Implications
Receipt of traditional, federally-funded SNAP benefits may be included in a public charge determination. Because of eligibility restrictions, few individuals who are eligible for SNAP are also subject to a public charge determination.
Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) is not considered in a public charge test.
WIC, TEFAP, and home-delivered meals are not included in the public charge test.
- Unemployment Insurance
The CARES Act expands Unemployment Insurance (UI) in several ways:
- A completely new program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), was created to cover workers normally ineligible for regular UI (such as independent contractors) and will also cover many kinds of situations where individuals are unable to work due to the public health crisis.
- An additional 13 weeks of extended UI benefits are available for employees unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19.
- In states that agree, $600 will be added to employees’ maximum weekly benefit under both UI and the new PUA program through 7/31/2020.
For states that agree to waive the normal seven day waiting period, the federal government will pay the full cost of the first week of benefits
For regular UI benefits: Immigrants generally must be work-authorized at the time they file for UI benefits, during the base period used to calculate the benefit amount, and during the entire period they are receiving benefits.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has not yet clarified the eligibility criteria that will apply to the new UI programs created by the CARES Act. It is possible that the DOL will apply a more restrictive set of eligibility criteria, such as those used in the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program (DUA).
Public Charge Implications
UI is NOT considered in public charge determinations.