New York is finally giving undocumented workers access to COVID relief

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The $2.1 billion 'Excluded Workers Fund' could assist thousands of noncitizen workers affected by the pandemic.

The New York State Legislature on Wednesday passed a budget that includes a historic $2.1 billion fund to aid the nearly 300,000 undocumented immigrant workers in the state.

The Excluded Workers Fund was incorporated in the state's record $212 billion budget for fiscal year 2022, a deal agreed to by both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers.

The fund would assist noncitizen workers who were left out of federal pandemic assistance.

The Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that around 1.2 million undocumented workers in New York were excluded from receiving unemployment insurance during the pandemic, as well as stimulus checks from the $2 trillion CARES Act COVID-19 relief package, which barred them from any sort of aid. Those workers were also barred from receiving assistance during initial round of stimulus checks in 2020.

U.S. citizen spouses of undocumented workers were also blocked from any sort of COVID relief.

"A pandemic is no time to discriminate," the Fiscal Policy Institute wrote in May 2020. "If the federal government chooses to promote anti-immigrant policy and discrimination at the expense of public health, New York State must step up to help these vulnerable individuals and protect all New Yorkers."

A Center for Migration Studies report estimated that approximately 1.8 million immigrants work in essential businesses, which continued to operate even as the virus surged. Around 70% of New York's undocumented labor force are essential workers, while 1 in 5 foreign-born essential workers in the state are undocumented, the center reported.

The Excluded Workers Fund would provide those undocumented workers up to $15,600 in unemployment benefits for earnings lost between March 27, 2020 and April 1, 2021. Aid would be granted based on various factors, including proof of past wages.

"History is made today!" the #FundExcludedWorkers Coalition, a collective of more than 100 advocacy groups, tweeted when Cuomo and the state legislature first struck a deal on April 6.

The coalition noted that the victory was the result of statewide organizing efforts led by the workers themselves.

Many Republican state lawmakers opposed the $212 billion budget, which includes the $2.1 billion aid fund.

"Albany’s fiscal irresponsibility with hard-working taxpayer’s money apparently knows no end. The latest outrage is an effort to potentially establish an 'Excluded Worker Fund,'" said Republican New York state Sen. Daphne Jordan in a statement on March 31. "Only in Albany’s 'Bizzaro World' and one-party Democratic rule is this ridiculous scheme even possible."

In the state Assembly, all 30 lawmakers who voted against the fiscal year 2022 budget were Republicans.

All 20 state senators who voted nay on the budget were Republicans.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.