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Federal Court Prohibits Local Governments From Excluding Non-Citizens from Certain CARES-Funded Programs

Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability sent the following letter to local governments in the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella valleys on Dec. 29, 2020.

On Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020, in the case of Poder in Action vs. The City of Phoenix, United States District Judge Dominic Lanza ruled that local governments may not exclude undocumented individuals from participating in certain programs funded by Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).

According to the court ruling, CARES Act-funded programs, such as utility assistance and rental/mortgage assistance programs fall under the statute 8 U.S.C. § 1611(a) exception as “short-term non-cash in-kind emergency relief.” Under this exception, CARES Act-funded programs must not require proof of legal status to participate, thus allowing individuals without legal status to apply and receive relief. 

Though the City of Phoenix presumed CARES to be a federal public benefit by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, federal court pronounced CARES programs, particularly utility and rental/mortgage assistance programs as “non-cash.” Recipients do not receive cash, rather funds are directly sent to landlords, mortgage companies, or utilities. Moreover, CARES does not meet the definition for federal public benefits as it is a one-time emergency response relief.  

As a federal court decision, and as statute 8 U.S.C. § 1611(a) preempts state and local law, state and local law cannot exclude undocumented individuals from CARES funded programs. Accordingly, local governments must ensure that relief programs are available to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

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