New York’s $2.1 Billion Pandemic Lifeline For Undocumented Workers Runs Out of Money

Earlier this year, New York created a $2.1 billion fund to help undocumented immigrants and others who weathered the pandemic without access to government relief. The Excluded Workers Fund, by far the biggest of its kind in the country, was intended to provide eligible workers with one-time payments to help cover costs associated with joblessness, such as back rent and medical bills.

But just a few months after the state began accepting applications, the fund is about to run out of money, following a blitz in claims and a speedy distribution of aid. State authorities announced they would stop accepting new applications as of Oct. 8, adding that even those who had applied in the two weeks before that deadline might not be approved.

The fund’s rapid depletion could mean that tens of thousands of applicants might miss out on payments, according to organizers and state lawmakers who championed the fund.

It could also mean that thousands more may never get an opportunity to apply at all, including upstate workers or other immigrants in more isolated areas who do not have transportation or ready access to the community-based organizations that have been instrumental in helping people assemble their applications.

Soaring demand for the fund has placed pressure on Gov. Kathy Hochul to add more money to the pot in what could be an early test of her progressive bona fides as she campaigns next year. Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, had made it a priority to fast-track the disbursement of the original $2.1 billion when she ascended to the state’s top job after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suddenly resigned in August.

The fund, which awards grants of up to $15,600, was one of the most contentious points of debate during negotiations over the state budget, and had faced some resistance from Mr. Cuomo, who said he was concerned about the risk of fraud.

On Monday, a group of activists called on Ms. Hochul to expand the fund by $3 billion in the next budget and to come up with additional money to cover eligible claims that had been submitted before the deadline this year.

It is unclear how much support expanding the fund has in the Legislature. While a group of 15 lawmakers, including Senator Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the legislation that created the fund, sent a letter this month to Ms. Hochul asking for additional money, Democratic leaders have stayed quiet. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the majority leader in the Senate, declined to comment, while Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, did not reply to requests for comment.

“Those folks did all they could,” said Bianca Guerrero of the community organization Make the Road New York, who was the campaign coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers coalition, which held rallies, closed bridges and waged a hunger strike to push for the fund.

She added: “It’s not enough to finish the job that the last governor started; we need her to make sure that it meets the actual demand.”

Even in New York City, many eligible applicants faced administrative hurdles that they said they did not have time to resolve before the application period ended. Applicants had to submit proof of identity, residency and income history, such as letters from employers. Many cash earners faced reluctance from employers, who did not want to disclose that they had been paying workers under the table. Others had difficulty providing proof of residency because they live in illegally subdivided apartments or basements or their names are not on a lease.

To date, the state has distributed just over two-thirds of the fund, to about 128,000 people, a fraction of the nearly 351,000 claims that were received.

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Culled from The New York Times

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