The pandemic impacted Californians but not equally. Low-income workers were hit the hardest from a public health and economic standpoint. With public health restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place, many industries came to a screeching halt. Other essential services that remained opened placed working Californians at risk of exposure and some were forced to miss work. Affected workers already living paycheck to paycheck lost crucial wages creating further financial hardship. In response, the state of California launched the Golden State Stimulus (GSS) – an innovative program that provides financial assistance to workers and their families struggling to pay for basic living expenses. The GSS provides $600 rapid cash support directly to roughly four million low-income Californians.
The GSS is a crucial lifeline for thousands of California families. Importantly, California became one of the only states to make undocumented individuals eligible for assistance — an inclusionary policy for a community that doesn’t qualify for federal relief programs. With the GSS, undocumented workers that file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, were eligible to receive payment. With the GSS plan, 78% of California taxpayers were eligible to receive a one-time payment in 2021 or 2022, depending on when they last submitted their taxes. Many Californians are in the process of receiving their payments in the early part of 2022.
Through the GSS:
- Tax filers who qualify for Cal EITC received a $600 payment
- Tax filers making $75,000 a year received a $600 payment
- ITIN filers making $75,000 or less received a $600 payment
- ITIN filers who also qualified for CalEITC received a $1200 payment
- ITIN filers who make less than $75,000 or less a year and have one or more dependents received $1000 payment
The GSS has been a success largely because the method to receive assistance was simple. Recipients did not need to fill out any additional forms or navigate any bureaucracies to receive assistance—as long as they had filed their taxes they could expect to see either a check or a direct deposit into their bank account. And though the pandemic highlighted inequalities throughout the state and the country, it also affirmed that our governments can and should provide more direct cash assistance. GSS plan ultimately proved to be the most successful and innovative program that California enacted during the pandemic and should be reinstated for years to come and replicated and modeled at the national level.