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Undocumented Workers Could Get Access to Unemployment Under WA Bill


Monday, January 23, 2023   

Undocumented workers in Washington state do not have access to unemployment insurance, but some state lawmakers aim to change it this session.

The bill proposed in the House and Senate would create a wage replacement program for undocumented Washingtonians who lose their jobs.

Sasha Wasserstrom, policy director for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said immigrants are a vital part of the state's economy, and called the measure long overdue.

"We are hoping for this legislation to pass in order for undocumented workers to finally get what is due to them," Wasserstrom contended. "Which is having the security that if they lose their jobs -- through no fault of their own -- that they can have the same security that any other resident has of Washington state."

Wasserstrom pointed out undocumented workers pay the taxes which support unemployment benefits, but are not eligible for them. Data from 2019 found households headed by undocumented immigrants paid $371 million in state and local taxes. Businesses are pushing back on the legislation, saying employers who knowingly hire ineligible workers face penalties under federal laws.

Wasserstrom noted workers who have no safety net when they are laid off put not only themselves in a difficult situation, but their families as well.

"We've heard so many stories of how not having that security has put folks in dangerous or violent situations -- has created food insecurity issues for families, made it more dangerous for parents and children in the home -- without having the possibility of income replacement," Wasserstrom recounted.

Other states have established programs to provide benefits for undocumented workers, including Colorado.

The Senate version of the Washington state measure is scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday.

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