LOS ANGELES, California — Frontline healthcare providers and essential workers, including undocumented immigrants, now have rights to safe working environments, insurance protection and benefits, and workers’ compensation for Covid-19.
Congress has also passed a second stimulus package of $480 billions for small businesses with a special attention to minority owners.
“It’s unfortunate that it takes a pandemic for the public to finally recognize the important contributions of communities of color and immigrants who are doing many essential work for many years but are not appreciated,” says California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara at a recent telebriefing with the press on worker rights, insurance coverage, and compensation benefits.
The telebriefing is part of the Covid-19 media coverage series organized by Ethnic Media Services with the support from the Blue Shield of California Foundation.
The son of undocumented parents who worked as factory worker and seamstress, Lara knows the difficulties that many ethnic populations and undocumented immigrants are facing.
Although his parents paid taxes like everyone else, because of their undocumented and uninsured status, they had always feared of getting arrested and deported if they ever tried accessing healthcare services or claiming for any worker rights and compensations.
During this pandemic, these workers, Lara adds, need to be out of the shadows and be free of those fears to continue the essential work to keep all Californians safe and healthy.
To achieve this goal, they must be protected with safe working environment, proper personal protection equipment, and better compensation for the high risk of infection exposure.
Under Governor Gavin Newsom’s new executive order, frontline and essential workers, including undocumented immigrants, can file for workers’ compensation benefits to cover healthcare cost and lost wages if they contracted Covid-19 while doing their jobs.
In addition, Lara believes the government should be proactive to do more to help the underserved communities and essential workers. He outlines a number of other important rights, resources, and benefits that these populations can expect to receive during this pandemic period.
Auto Insurance, Vehicle Registration
- With the shelter-in-place orders, all Californians, except for the essential workers who need to be mobile, are not frequently using their vehicles. As a result, insurance companies are required to reduce premiums from 15% to 25% as accidental risks have been greatly reduced. Consumers should expect to hear from insurers about these discounts, which can be in the forms of credit, reduction, return of premium, or other premium adjustment for the months of March and April. These premium discounts should take effect immediately and no later than August 2020.
- As unemployment rates are rising, insurance companies are asked to give consumers at least a 60-day grace period on premium payments in order to keep all drivers’ insurance coverage active. Consumers are also encouraged to contact their insurers to request additional time if needed.
- The DMV will also waive all fees and penalties for vehicle registration, identification cards during the pandemic. Law enforcement has been advised to use discretion in enforcement of expired car registration and driver For more details, consumers should visit the DMV website.
Health Resources and Insurance
- As of March 5, all insurance co-pays for screening and testing for Covid-19 have been eliminated. Undocumented immigrants without health insurance are qualified for public charge and can access the screening and testing for Covid-19.
- Treatment for COVID-19 and related illnesses is covered by consumers’ health insurance plan. Individuals without insurance, including undocumented immigrants, are urged to purchase health coverage through Covered California.
- Health insurers are required to give their policy holders a 60-day grace period for premium payment during this pandemic.
- All workers, including undocumented immigrants, and especially the frontline healthcare providers, first responders, and essential workers, can now file worker compensation claims directly with the Department of Industrial Relations for Covid-19 and related illnesses. Consumers are also advised to visit the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency’s website for details on benefits.
Beware of Scams
During this pandemic, ethnic and immigrant communities are particularly vulnerable to scams such as access to insurance benefits, telemedicine, car insurance, and Covid-19 testing and treatment. If approached by anyone with these offers, consumers should not send money or provide any personal information and immediately contact the California Department of Insurance Consumer Services Division toll-free at 800-927-4357 for advice and help.
Residents on government programs of CalFresh, Medical, CalWORK, Cash Assistance for Immigrants, and In-Home Supportive Services do not have to renew their eligibility for 90 days during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Minority-Owned Small Businesses
Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees are qualified for the CARES Act’s stimulus package. The first budget of $377 billions for small businesses was quickly depleted by early April. However, Congress recently passed a second package of $480 billions with a special attention to minority-owned small businesses. Business owners and entrepreneurs from communities of color are strongly advised to visit the US Small Business Administration for more details on the second stimulus package.
Compliance and Overcoming Obstacles
To ensure compliance, insurance companies, Lara says, are required to regularly provide his department data on how their premium discount programs, grace period extension, and claims are being processed.
At any given time, there’s usually a huge number of people in ethnic and immigrant communities who have limited English and a lack of knowledge in navigating many government and insurance company systems’ websites for updated information on how to file for benefits.
During this pandemic, knowing how to access resources and obtain benefits has become even more daunting for this group. Recognizing this fact, Lara advises people from communities of color to visit the California Department of Insurance for all the latest information regarding their situations and call the hotline 800-927-4357 for personal assistance. There will be multilingual staffs who can advise all individuals and business owners on how to access benefits, file claims, and also make referrals to the right agencies for their specific needs.