Politics

Vermont House approves $5 million stimulus program for undocumented immigrants

Rep. Chip Conquest speaks in favor of a proposed delay
Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, introduced H.968. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Vermont House on Tuesday approved a $5 million program that would provide Covid-19 stimulus checks to Vermonters who didn’t receive federal payments earlier this year because of their immigration status.  

Under the program, which the House advanced in a vote of 129-15, 4,000 to 5,000 people would receive payments, including about 3,000 undocumented immigrants, and 500 to 1,000 children, according to Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office

U.S. residents who filed federal and state income taxes without using Social Security numbers, didn’t receive stimulus payments in April, after President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law. 

The Vermont program would be eligible to people who were living in the state on April 1, weren’t sent stimulus checks from the federal government, and earn $99,000 or less. 

Mirroring the federal assistance program, under the bill approved Tuesday, adults would receive $1,200 payments, and children would receive $500 payments. 

“This bill is another attempt to perfect the policy that I think we all hold close,” Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, said introducing the legislation, H.968, on the virtual House floor.  

“That is to treat all Vermonters equitably, which is to say, fairly and justly, regardless of their circumstances,” he said. 

About 500 citizens and legal permanent residents who file taxes jointly with undocumented spouses also would be eligible to receive funding. 

Up to 500 other immigrants with “lawful” immigration status but who lack Social Security numbers, such as visa holders and those applying for asylum, could also receive the funding. 

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Gov. Phil Scott pitched $2 million for the program when he announced his budget proposal in August.

House lawmakers increased funding after hearing from advocates who said $5 million was needed to ensure the state’s entire immigrant population could receive payments.

Lawmakers were able to find an additional $3 million in the state’s Tobacco Litigation Settlement Fund. 

The Legislature had previously slated that money to pay for reforms to the state’s program for dealing with child abuse and neglect cases — its Children in Need of Care and Services, or CHINS, program. 

However, Conquest said, the House Appropriations Committee found that money had not been “getting out the door” as quickly as lawmakers intended when they included it in the 2018 budget bill. 

If the legislation becomes law, the state would administer the program in consultation with Vermont’s director of racial equity, Xusana Davis. 

In an attempt to build trust with the undocumented community, the state would be allowed to work with public and or private organizations to administer the program. In addition, publicly identifiable information collected by the state would remain confidential.  

Terry Norris
Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, opposes the bill, arguing the money paid to undocumented immigrants will leave the United States. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

Some lawmakers spoke out against the economic stimulus program on the House floor Tuesday, arguing that the money would be better spent elsewhere. 

Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, said that while farmers have been struggling, migrant workers have remained employed. 

“Nobody lost their jobs, because farmers needed them,” Norris said. 

He said that college students should receive $1,200 payments as they struggle to find employment during the pandemic, and argued that immigrants won’t spend the stimulus dollars in the U.S. economy. 

“Normally a good share of that money goes back to wherever their homeland is, and that’s not going to stimulate the economy,” Norris said.

“As far as college students, they should be getting that $1,200. And trust me, they know how to spend it in the United States,” he said.

Rep. Brian Smith, R-Derby, said that he had a problem with “asking the taxpayers of the state to give money to people that are not here legally.” 

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“I’d rather see that money go to our own struggling families, our own struggling veterans, and our own struggling seniors, rather than someone that takes their paycheck and sends it back for their own country,” Smith said. 

Tom Stevens
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, supports the bill, saying the workers are important to the Vermont economy. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, spoke in support of the program and said those who would be eligible for funding under the program are “members of our Vermont family.” 

“They do help provide the local food that we work so hard to promote within our own economic growth, and so I fully support what the appropriations committee is proposing here,” Stevens said. 

The legislation, which is expected to pass on a second vote Wednesday, still needs to be approved by the Senate, and signed by Scott before it can become law. 

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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