CARES Act left some immigrants behind; Cortez Masto pushing to fix that

cortez masto being senatorial
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) at the Capitol in Washington, DC. last year. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Americans await relief from the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), there’s one part of the population that may lose out: the immigrant community.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said legislators are working to include at-risk immigrant families and vulnerable communities in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation.

“If we are going to address this health care crisis and stem the spread of it then we need to include everyone in our community,” Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Cortez Masto is a cosponsor of the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, which aims to address needs that weren’t addressed in previous relief packages by ensuring all communities can access COVID-19 testing and treatment. The bill would provide $100 million in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct public outreach in multiple languages to hard-to-reach populations including minorities, those with limited English proficiency and the disabled.

Specifically, the legislation would ensure that anyone would have access to COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines by providing everyone Medicaid coverage for those treatments regardless of their immigrant status. The bill would also prohibit discrimination based on a person’s perceived or actual immigration status for COVID-19-related services.

“That is the number one thing we need to be doing is focusing on stemming the spread of this virus and that requires us to ramp up rapid testing … that is why it is so important that it be available for free. That means everyone in our community,” Cortez Masto said.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and cosponsored by Cortez Masto and her Nevada Democratic colleague, Sen. Jacky Rosen.

The legislation would also temporarily halt immigration policies that deter immigrants from receiving the medical care and support they need, including suspending public charge rules, in-person ICE checks, and the detention and deportation of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking victims who have pending immigration applications. The bill would also suspend immigration enforcement actions on transit to or from sensitive locations like hospitals, courthouses, and domestic violence shelters.

The measures would be in place during the COVID-19 emergency, and 60 days after the emergency ends.

“What we were able to do in this third package was to provide some relief to our immigrant communities, but it doesn’t provide all the relief that is necessary for so many people who are struggling right now because of the pandemic,” Cortez Masto said.

ITIN, SBA, and testing

The legislation would also ensure working families who have paid their taxes using an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) that the IRS issues to many undocumented workers would no longer be excluded from cash relief. As things currently stand even TPS holders and Dreamers with valid Social Security numbers who file taxes as a family with someone who uses an ITIN are not eligible for rebate checks, leaving many Nevada families without immediate financial support.

With a Republican majority in the Senate, the legislation will be difficult to pass, but Cortez Masto said Democrats will be incorporating the bill into the negotiations of the fourth relief package, and she hopes the bill will pass with bipartisan support similar to that the CARES Act received.

Cortez Masto also A recent issue facing the Nevada delegation is what they perceived to be an anti-gaming policy on behalf of the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration. 

Small businesses can receive forgivable loans of up to $10 million through the Small Business Administration so long as at least 75 percent of the money is used to continue paying employees. However, businesses that had revenue from gambling exceeding $1 million in 2019, and get at least 50 percent of their gross annual revenue from gaming are ineligible for the loans.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board said 265 gaming venues reported gross gaming revenue of $1 million or more for the year. Each of those businesses would not be able to get coronavirus payroll relief like the Paycheck Protection Program.

Cortez Masto called the decision by the Treasury — which excludes many of Nevada’s small gaming businesses from the program — “reckless” and “outrageous.”

“It is outrageous to me that some of our small businesses are being prohibited from even being eligible to apply for these funds,” Cortez Masto said.

She believes that the Small Business Administration in conjunction with the Treasury Department “disregarded the intent and spirit of the CARES act” by narrowing the guideline of which businesses are eligible for the loans. 

“Everybody during a pandemic including every single one of our businesses should be entitled to seek the relief and support to keep their businesses liquid and support their workers,” Cortez Masto said.

The Nevada delegation has been united in their efforts to reverse the new guidelines set by the treasury and are working on a bill to address the issue.

“We have a bill that will be dropping and we will be incorporating that language into the fourth package and if we have to legislate it through that fourth package to make the changes we will do it,” Cortez Masto said.

However, in just under two weeks the nearly $350 billion allocated for forgivable small business loans in the Paycheck Protection Program and other programs like the Disaster Relief Loans have already been depleted.

“We have to put more money into those programs,” Cortez Masto said. “That’s what we’re negotiating right now as part of the interim package.”

But the most pressing matter, said Cortez Masto, is making rapid testing widely available and ensuring hospitals and clinics stay open.

Cortez Masto echoed the overwhelming consensus among policymakers that the best chance for the economy to revive depends on ramped up testing. She emphasized the importance of putting together a strategic plan for the opening of the economy, adding that she talks to Gov. Steve Sisolak weekly to get updates. 

“We have to have the testing capacity to be able to identify those who are infected and to do contact tracing if someone is infected and has come into contact with other people. That’s why testing is so important,” Cortez Masto said. “We need to ramp it up and put more funding into getting the test kits nationally and in Nevada.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.