Today the House Committee on Ways and Means unveiled a $42.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 that includes vital investments in immigrant integration, as well as $2 million for community outreach to ensure that all Massachusetts residents are counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.
“With this budget, House leadership sends a powerful message that our Commonwealth values new Americans,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of MIRA, a coalition of more than 130 organizations that represent, serve and advocate for immigrants and refugees.
“We are particularly pleased to see a 60% boost in support for citizenship programs, which enable immigrants to fully realize their American dream,” Millona added. “Citizenship anchors new Americans in our communities and makes them likelier to buy a home, start a business, and get involved in civic life. The extra funds will help nonprofits across Massachusetts increase public outreach, especially to immigrants who may not know they’re eligible for citizenship, and provide much-needed technical support to ensure that every applicant successfully completes the process.”
Millona also chairs the Massachusetts Complete Count Committee under Secretary of State Bill Galvin, and has been advocating, with several statewide and grassroots groups, for significant funding for Census outreach. In 2010, there was only minimal state funding for Census work, but the 2020 Census is widely recognized as particularly challenging, because it’s the first all-digital Census; the addition of a question of citizenship is expected to have a chilling effect on households that include immigrants; and federal funding is quite limited – Massachusetts has only six area offices, half the number it had in 2010, and none west of Worcester.
“The $2 million budgeted by the House will make a big impact,” Millona said. “With almost one in four residents living in ‘hard-to-count’ tracts – 1.6 million people – we need as much funding as we can get to support grassroots organizations that know their communities well and have people’s trust. Under far better circumstances, the 2010 Census missed about 20,000 children in our Commonwealth. If we don’t do everything in our power to ensure that people at all income levels, of all backgrounds, in all regions, feel safe and comfortable responding to the Census, the risk of an undercount is severe, and we could lose billions of dollars in federal funding as a result.”
Along with the Census funding, key items in the budget from a new Americans perspective include:
- $801,575 for the Citizenship for New Americans Program (CNAP), which supports nonprofits that help eligible immigrants apply for U.S. citizenship. An estimated 300,000 green card holders in Massachusetts qualify, but almost two-thirds face significant barriers, such as difficulties filling out the 22-page application and compiling the needed documents, or passing the test.
- $38.1 million for Adult education and English classes for immigrants (ABE/ESOL), up $4.75 million from FY2019. Nearly 19,000 Massachusetts residents rely on ABE programs to gain the literacy and skills they need, and the need is far greater, in the hundreds of thousands. Moreover, about one in 10 adults can’t speak English very well, but the waitlist for English classes is over 17,000.
- $37.8 million for services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, a roughly $500,000 boost to cover mandatory rate increases. This line item funds a range of services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including culturally and linguistically appropriate services for immigrant victims and survivors, who often don’t know how to get help.
- “Not less than” $1 million for the Employment Support Services Program (ESSP), part of the Mass. Department of Transitional Assistance’s Employment Services Program. ESSP serves immigrants and refugees with particular barriers to employment, offering targeted services such as translation and training in vocational English.