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BURLINGTON, VT. – The state aims to send COVID-19 stimulus checks by early April to Vermonters who didn’t receive federal payments earlier this year because of their immigration status.
Two months after Gov. Phil Scott signed the state budget that included $5 million to send undocumented adults $1,200 and their children $500, the state is finalizing its contract with the Vermont Community Foundation, a nongovernmental entity, to administer the fund and send checks in the first three months of 2021.
Determining which nongovernment organization would handle the program was one of the questions that had to be answered before the money could be distributed. Lack of government involvement provides assurance that there is no risk in accepting the money.
“We are currently working with the state to explore administration of the Economic Stimulus Equity Fund program,” Sarah Waring, vice president for grants and community Investments at the Vermont Community Foundation, said in a statement.
“Our goal throughout the pandemic has been to help extend the community infrastructure that supports those whose lives are affected and seed the kind of economic recovery that puts Vermont communities on firmer, more resilient ground in the future,” Waring said.
About 500 citizens and legal permanent residents who file taxes jointly with undocumented spouses are eligible to receive the money. 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.
The program mirrors the federal COVID-19 relief program that sent stimulus checks to people earlier this year.
The state program for people deemed ineligible for the federal payments was part of an effort to foster equal treatment for all Vermont residents, regardless of immigration status.
A major goal was to make sure Vermont’s undocumented residents felt comfortable receiving the money, in an environment in which there is widespread distrust of the state and fear of harassment or deportation.
Xusana Davis, Vermont’s director of racial equity, said in a recent interview that the Scott administration and other leaders have been working for the past two months to ensure people take advantage of the fund.
“This is a program that’s going to require a great deal of trust-building,” Davis said. “It’s certainly been a labor-intensive process because we are making efforts to make sure that community groups on the ground understand what their role is in this and how we’re best going to reach out to communities to reduce the possibility of a chilling effect and to get maximum turnout for applicants.”
The deadline for applications is March 1. The money is to be distributed no later than April 1.
Will Lambek, spokesperson for Migrant Justice, a human rights organization that advocates for undocumented Vermonters, said finding a third party to administer the payments was a difficult but necessary part of the process.
“It was the preferable arrangement so that Vermont won’t be directly interacting with beneficiaries and they won’t be getting people’s personal information,” Lambek said. “Having that layer of insulation was important and it took some time to figure out.”
Lambek added that Migrant Justice believes that the Vermont Community Foundation will engender trust with undocumented immigrants.
People will receive the $1,200 toward the end of a difficult winter, with COVID-19 cases surging across the country — nearly a year after the federal stimulus money arrived.
Last summer, Migrant Justice announced it had raised money from individuals, foundations and national organizations to create a COVID Solidarity Fund, which has given direct aid payments of about $400 each to 525 immigrant farmworkers and family members.
Lambek said that stopgap measure was designed to help “tide folks over until the larger amount.”
“We’re not past the crisis yet, but it’s not too late, in that the need is still ongoing, and so when the money is distributed, it will still be relevant to the moment and is something that will really help,” he said.
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