When the coronavirus pandemic turned daily life on its head, it caught Americans off-guard with little time to sort out finances.

As the number of cases and deaths continues to mount, the likelihood of lockdown measures lifting and the return to normal life gets further and further away. But community leaders, local and state lawmakers and advocacy groups are working to make sure Californians don’t come out of this pandemic in financial ruin.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has ordered automobile insurance companies in the Golden State to proffer refunds to consumers, many of whom are not driving.

“With Californians driving fewer miles and many businesses closed due to the COVID-19 emergency, consumers need relief from premiums that no longer reflect their present-day risk of accident or loss. Today’s mandatory action will put money back in people’s pockets when they need it most,” Lara said in a press briefing with ethnic media outlets on Wednesday, April 22.

The order to refund premiums to drivers was announced on April 13, and Lara’s office recommended that the refunds take place for April and possibly May due to the recent extension of local and state stay-at-home and social distancing orders. Lara recommended a 50% to 70% refund on auto insurance premium costs as well as a 60-day grace period for premium payments.

Some auto insurance companies have offered refunds of up to 20%, but Lara believes that is not enough given the diminished risk of automobile accidents.

Another element of Lara’s order involves extending coverage to delivery workers and couriers — such as those who work for grocery, food delivery and cannabis delivery apps — of which many make deliveries with their personal cars.

Usually, auto insurance does not apply to the commercial use of personal cars, but this comes during a time when more people are ordering food, groceries and other goods via delivery.

The insurance commissioner further encouraged individuals who’ve lost their jobs to ask for a delay in the payments of premiums from their auto insurers for up to two months, noting that people can call his office to get help with making these calls. (The office of the insurance commissioner can be reached at 1-800-927-4357.)

Lara said that his office has extended this option to other forms of insurance such as workers compensation insurance since workers of several industries have been out of work since the emergency declarations.

As the son of undocumented parents, Lara also acknowledged at the briefing the particular struggle undocumented immigrants are going through at this time. He said, now more than ever, undocumented workers must be protected, especially those working in essential industries like fruit production, delivery services and health care.

About 10% of California’s workforce is undocumented, according to data from the Public Policy Institute of California; and, Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties have the highest concentration of undocumented workers.

“The broader community is finally realizing how essential they are,” Lara noted. “Our immigrant communities bear the brunt of this pandemic and this historic situation, and the irony is that finally the broader society is understanding that immigrants and the work that immigrants are doing are essential services.”

Lara said that immigrant workers who are still working during the pandemic should apply for workers compensation if they become infected with the COVID-19 virus while working.

“As we continue to figure how we survive as a community, we have to make sure our immigrants are protected,” he said, praising California’s long-standing efforts to protect undocumented immigrants. “We have demonstrated in our state that the sky doesn’t fall and nothing [bad] happens when we incorporate everyone in our economy.”

Undocumented workers were exempt from the one-time $1,200 stimulus check from the federal government, but this month, California became the first state to provide a financial relief package for undocumented workers. CA Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million stimulus package specifically for the state’s 1.75 million undocumented workers.

In a pointed message to President Donald Trump — who, earlier this week signed an executive order suspending certain immigration channels during the pandemic — Lara said, “we’ve demonstrated that our economy has grown and continues to thrive as the fifth largest economy in the world by incorporating our immigrant communities, and I think other states are catching on to that.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)

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