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Maryland grants stimulus aid to undocumented immigrants, other noncitizens

State House Square in Annapolis.

JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST

By ERIN COX | The Washington Post | Published: February 27, 2021

Maryland lawmakers on Friday approved giving lump-sum payments to low-income noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants, becoming one of the few states in the nation to extend stimulus benefits to people without Social Security numbers.

The legislation - which Gov. Larry Hogan, R, will let become law, his spokesman said - qualifies all taxpaying residents, regardless of immigration status, to receive the state's Earned Income Tax Credit for the next three years.

Advocates who pushed for the bill say it will give a crucial cash boost to taxpaying immigrants who are often essential workers and have largely been shut out of unemployment, federal stimulus and other government-run safety net programs, including during the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is saying to hard-working immigrants who pay taxes, who contribute to the fabric of our community - and certainly to the fabric of our economy - that they matter," said Cathryn Paul, research and policy analyst with the immigrant advocacy group CASA.

Hogan previously balked at extending benefits to noncitizens as part of the state's recently passed $1.1 billion coronavirus stimulus package, warning lawmakers that including it in that legislation would jeopardize the entire bill.

But his spokesman, Michael Ricci, said Friday that Hogan will not veto the stand-alone measure that will accomplish the same goal. It passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities on a largely party-line vote. Ricci said the governor will allow the bill to become law without his signature. He declined to comment further.

In the recently passed stimulus bill, Maryland expanded its Earned Income Tax Credit to become most generous in the country. The measure, which is modeled after the federal credit by the same name, gives cash payments to the working poor on a sliding scale. Larger benefits go to families with multiple children and lower incomes.

To qualify, families must earn less than $56,800 a year, and individuals must earn no more than $15,820. The maximum benefit amounts to several thousand dollars each year.

It is widely viewed as one of government's most effective anti-poverty tools and is popular among both Democrats and Republicans. On average, beneficiaries in Maryland increase their earnings enough after three years that they no longer qualify for the credit, according to a legislative review of its impact.

But Republicans in the legislature were reluctant to extend the tax credit to noncitizens, saying they were opposed to offering a benefit to undocumented residents and concerned that doing so would encourage more undocumented people to move to the state.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, encouraged lawmakers to donate to charities that benefit immigrants and other people in poverty rather than using taxpayer money to offer refunds.

"The question is do you give the aid from your own pocket book? Or from taxpayers?" she said. "You take it from your own pocket. . . . We have to respect other people's money."

Other Republicans argued that the state's retirees should get additional tax benefits before they are extended to a group of people that include undocumented immigrants. An amendment to do that failed.

Maryland's median income is among the highest in the country, but the state also has a large low-income population. In 2019, nearly one in seven Maryland tax-filers - 440,000 households - qualified for the credit.

The expansion given final approval Friday by the House of Delegates would make an estimated 60,000 more people eligible for about $60 million worth of credits. It allows those who file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, to qualify.

People who owe taxes but do not have a Social Security number, including people on work visas, student visas, protective status and undocumented immigrants, use taxpayer identification numbers.

Federal rules bar them from many federal benefits, including the earned income credit. Mixed-status families who have an ITIN-filer on their tax returns are also barred from the tax credit, effectively blocking citizens from receiving the benefit.

California and Colorado have allowed ITIN filers access to earned income benefits since before the coronavirus pandemic.