SAN FRANCISCO - Twenty years ago, Luis Mejia packed his bags and left his entire life in El Salvador, including his wife and two daughters.
Every morning he looks at their pictures, trying to find the strength to continue a journey that has become extremely difficult since the pandemic started.
"I used to work at a Pizzeria, and when the pandemic began, my boss cut our hours," Mejia said.
We spent some time with him at his apartment in San Francisco's Mission District. He told me that, like many other undocumented immigrant workers, he was ineligible for unemployment benefits.
He hopes the new Safety Net for All Workers Act could change that. The California Senate bill, SB 227, would provide unemployment benefits to all workers, regardless of immigration status.
"If you look on the streets, under the bridges, there are people who, since the pandemic, continue to suffer the consequences and who have not been able to get back on their feet, so that is why this law is so important," Mejia explained. "We need the governor to sign it this year," Mejia explained.
An estimated two million undocumented workers in California have been excluded from unemployment benefits and other assistance during the pandemic.
Sponsored by Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), the bill would provide undocumented immigrant workers laid off with $300 per week for up to 20 weeks.
We spoke with Jenna Gerry, Senior Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project, to understand how this would work.
"It would be run through the Employment Development Department, which is the agency that administers regular unemployment insurance," Gerry explained. "They would apply for the benefit and have to show proof of their past wages."
Some of the ways to show past income would include proof of schedule showing how many hours they worked each week, or bank information showing direct, consistent deposits.
"Currently, employers are paying about $485 million on their behalf into the [unemployment Insurance] system already," Gerry added. "But unlike every other worker, they can never see a cent of that money."
Last year, a similar piece of legislation was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom because "the bill needed further work to address operational issues."
"We're asking for $356 million, which will fund one year of benefits plus all the administrative costs for the Employment Development Department," Gerry said.
While they wait, Gerry and Mejia told me the plan is to continue knocking on doors to gain support as the bill moves within the Senate.
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