The HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) Blog Post authored by Emily Houde, CLASI Staff Attorney
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced its latest COVID-19 aid package: the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or the HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, which passed the House on Friday, May 15, 2020, and now goes to the Senate for debate.
The HEROES Act includes a number of provisions that increase support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, bolster the programs that serve them, and, importantly, include critical provisions to help immigrants who were left out of earlier-enacted relief packages. The bill also provides essential protections to address housing and food insecurity that will help struggling individuals, including survivors.
Four specific provisions in the HEROES Act that directly impact the community in which we live and serve, include:
- Increases in funding for Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA – $50 million) and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) programs ($100 million),
- Provisions for additional stimulus payments to help sustain hard-hit families, with language to ensure that the payments go to all taxpayers, including immigrant victims who file and pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN);
- Protections for uninsured individuals, including immigrant victims in states that opt to cover them through Medicaid so they have access to free COVID-19 testing, treatment, and care; and
- Temporary automatic extension of immigration status or work authorization, including that of immigrant victims which has expired or is set to expire during the emergency.
All of these components would significantly impact low-income Delawareans who were left out of prior legislation and who remain particularly vulnerable. Additional funding would allow various domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Delaware, including shelters, to ensure that survivors receive necessary aid during this especially trying time. In addition to funding for transitional housing assistance grants for survivors, there are also provisions extending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and providing additional flexibility for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) and federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”).
I am a Staff Attorney in the Immigration program at Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. I work specifically with undocumented victims of crime, including domestic violence and sexual violence survivors. Our office has seen a significant number of Delawareans disqualified for the stimulus payments under the CARES Act due to tax filing status, even where they have paid significant federal income tax. This has especially affected immigrant members of our community, including domestic violence survivors and their families. Mixed-status families, often consisting of an immigrant parent with one or more U.S. citizen children, are facing the same pandemic related issues that many low-income Delawareans are facing. However, these families have had the added difficulty of often not receiving the same stimulus checks to help them meet the basic needs of the household. Coupled with the additional barriers immigrant domestic violence survivors face on a regular basis, exclusion from these payments leaves these families in a particularly vulnerable position.
Our office has received many calls from individuals facing this situation wondering where they can obtain help finding basic necessities for themselves and their children, often fielding calls from clients with questions regarding what services there are to help them obtain free/low-cost food for themselves and their children. The expansion of the stimulus payments under the HEROES Act would at least provide these Delaware families with some minimum aid to ensure that neither they nor their children go without such basic necessities.
While the Food Bank of Delaware and other organizations have been working zealously to ensure that Delawareans are able to access free food, many low-income residents, including domestic violence survivors, have additional hurdles that have prevented them from accessing services. For example, if a survivor does not have access to the internet, they may miss important information and details about how to access services offered by the Food Bank or other organizations in time, since events for distribution of goods and services are often announced only a few days in advance. Other survivors have found that a lack of transportation has made it difficult for them to access services. This is particularly a problem in more rural areas like Sussex County where access to public transportation is more limited. Some of these issues would be alleviated by directly providing the survivor, and their children, with the additional stimulus payments. The stimulus money would also be tremendously helpful for low-income Delawareans looking for financial assistance to help pay for rent and utilities during the pandemic and who currently have to choose between paying for rent and paying for other basic necessities, such as food.
In the last few months, our office has worked to answer a number of questions and concerns from immigrant survivors and their family members who are either experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or have been exposed to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. We have seen first-hand that immigrant members of our community are particularly afraid to access testing and treatment for the virus for many reasons. A few of those reasons include worries that they will be unable to afford the cost (especially now during the pandemic) or will get in trouble with Immigration or the government for accessing free medical services. This has caused great concern for immigrant survivors in our community, and should be a matter of concern for all of us. Individuals who need access to COVID-19 testing and treatment should be able to obtain testing and treatment without fearing the cost or possible repercussions to their immigration status. As we have seen Sussex County grow into a hotspot in our state, it has become more and more apparent that adequate access to testing and treatment for all members of our community is extremely important in order to slow the spread of the virus. As a matter of public policy it benefits all Delawareans to ensure that testing and treatment will not cause an additional burden for all low-income Delawareans. This will help slow the spread of the virus and minimize long-term costs to the state.
Many low-income Delawareans continue to work in essential businesses that remain open and active during this pandemic, and immigrant members of our community are no exception. Many individuals have temporary permission to work that needs to be renewed periodically. This period can span from renewing every year or every few years, depending upon the individual’s status. Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been increased delays associated with renewing employment authorization. The delays caused by the pandemic are widespread and include agency delays in processing applications for work authorization at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) offices, and delays for individuals when asked to gather and submit additional information and evidence in support of requests for work authorization. Things that were once simple, such as obtaining passport-sized photos from a store, have become difficult during the pandemic, now that stores have abbreviated hours and services offered. Finally, most applications for employment authorization require a fee with limited fee waivers. This creates an additional cost for immigrant members of our community at a time when many of them are experiencing reduced hours and income due to the pandemic. This leaves many immigrant members of our community in the position of losing their employment, due solely to the fact that they have not been able to renew their work permits in time. To the extent that they are essential workers, their inability to work will leave essential Delaware businesses in the position of having to let employees go just as services become more and more crucial in our community.
The relief included in the HEROES Act would significantly impact low-income and vulnerable Delawareans, especially domestic violence and sexual violence survivors. During a time when more individuals are sheltering at home (possibly with their abusers) or working in essential businesses and risking exposure to COVID-19, the relief included would provide some of the most vulnerable members of our community with much-needed resources, and some stability during an especially unstable time.
Contact your Senators and express support for the HEROES Act, and urge the Senate to address these issues to support our community. To contact your senator, click here.