Lawsuit argues COVID-19 relief money can’t go to immigrants without legal status

Lawsuit argues COVID-19 relief money can’t go to immigrants without legal status

State did not authorize payments, Judicial Watch argues in suit against Montgomery County

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A nonprofit group has filed a federal lawsuit against Montgomery County seeking to prevent local officials from distributing COVID-19 relief funds to people living in the country illegally.

The lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of Montgomery County residents Sharon Bauer and Richard Jurgena.

It seeks to stop government officials from distributing any of the $5 million the county set aside to provide financial assistance to low-income residents to people living in the country illegally. The lawsuit argues that doing so would violate federal law because it was not approved by the state legislature.

County Executive Marc Elrich and Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, are named as defendants. A county spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday afternoon.

Judicial Watch argues that undocumented residents are only eligible for state and local funding “through the enactment of a state law” that was not passed by the Maryland General Assembly.

“Montgomery County Executive Elrich and the Montgomery County Council have no legal authority on their own to spend taxpayer money for cash payments to illegal aliens,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton wrote in a statement. “The coronavirus challenge doesn’t give politicians a pass to violate the law. If they want to give cash payments to illegal aliens, they must be accountable and transparent, and, as federal law requires, pass a state law to do so.”

In late April, the Montgomery County Council authorized one-time payments to Montgomery County residents who had incomes less than 50% of the federal poverty level and were not eligible for federal stimulus checks.

According to the IRS, people with incomes higher than $99,000, without a Social Security number, who are incarcerated or who are living in the country illegally were among those not eligible to receive federal stimulus checks.

About 1,300 families were scheduled to receive payments from Montgomery County. Recipients were to receive $1,000 for a family with one child, with $150 for each additional child, with a maximum payment of $1,450.

About half of the $5 million was tabbed to be distributed to families served by nonprofit organizations in the community.

“[T]his is an important step: (the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment program) was designed to provide a hand up to people who might not otherwise qualify for other kinds of assistance,” Elrich said in a news release at the time. “COVID-19 continues to take a toll on our economy and this program is one way to help stabilize families that are fighting to survive.”

A virtual hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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