“Fast for the Forgotten” to call for $3.5 billion in funding for workers left out of pandemic relief programs
Funding for excluded workers in Senate, Assembly budgets falls short of what workers have demanded
NEW YORK — Dozens of workers and community allies have launched a hunger strike to demand full funding for excluded workers in the New York State budget ahead of the state’s budget deadline on April 1.
Workers participating in the “Fast for the Forgotten” are demanding $3.5 billion in funding to support workers who have been excluded from federal and state pandemic relief programs, including unemployment benefits and stimulus checks. Though the Senate and Assembly budgets include $2.1 billion in funding for excluded workers, it is far less than the $3.5 billion that workers are demanding, a figure that would ensure weekly payments on par with the unemployment benefits other workers have received. “Our labor makes the city and state’s economy run. Most of us worked in grocery stores, on farms, in taxis, or delivering food, when everything else shutdown. But we have been left out of all stimulus or unemployment benefits,” said Sultana, an excluded worker and member of DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving.
“Because of the pandemic I’ve lost all my savings and all my income. I am eight months behind on rent and unable to support my family,” said Rubiela Correa, an excluded worker from Queens and a member of Make the Road New York. I am angry that elected officials have turned their back on us. The government doesn’t ask me for my status when it wants me to pay taxes, but it bars me from receiving help. Excluded workers have been through enough this year. We need support now.”
At a press conference in front of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, workers joined with faith and community leaders to announce their participation in the strike. Workers will be fasting on-site at the Church of the Ascension through March 19, after which they will be at the Judson Memorial Church, site of a powerful 2010 hunger strike that helped raise the pressure for then-President Obama to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“Despite the fact that I’ve been vending for six years, paying taxes like any other business, providing for myself and my family, I was intentionally excluded from all support and relief provided by the government. I haven’t received any support from the government, not even a penny,” said Mohamed Saad, the owner of a halal cart in Midtown and a member of the Street Vendor Project. “What’s happening with us as immigrants and workers is unfair. The government must do their job and address our needs, the same way we do our jobs as workers and serve the state of New York.”
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have received no income support during the pandemic. An August 2020 Make the Road NY survey showed that 98% of unemployed undocumented workers had not received federal or state government economic assistance.
The hunger strike is the final escalation in a months-long campaign to win funding for excluded workers, and comes a week after a statewide day of action, in which hundreds of workers led simultaneous marches across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in support of an excluded workers fund.
“Workers are fasting today because they have been left with no other choice. For a year, hundreds of thousands of workers across New York have received no lifeline from the government even as their communities have been devastated by layoffs and the loss of loved ones,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. This pandemic has affected all of us, and lawmakers have a responsibility not to leave any workers behind in the recovery. Excluded workers have called for economic relief that matches the unemployment benefits that other workers have received. The state legislature must listen to their demands and include a $3.5 billion fund for excluded workers in the final budget.”
Workers are calling for a fund to provide retroactive, direct cash assistance to workers who haven’t been able to access unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, or other government assistance.
The federal stimulus package signed last week, like previous stimulus bills, continues to largely tie unemployment insurance and other benefits to immigration status. Without action at the state level, working people across New York will continue to be shut out from relief.
“Every New York family deserves a chance at recovery from this pandemic, but for half a million New York households, help isn’t coming fast enough. One year after New York State shut down all but essential activity, undocumented New Yorkers on the frontlines of this pandemic are still struggling to pay their bills and feed their families. It’s long past time for New York State to reverse the injustice of every federal stimulus relief package, which excluded these New Yorkers from all social safety nets just because of their immigration status,” said Murad Awawdeh, Interim Co-Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “In this time of crisis, the state legislature must remember the families who have been here for us in our time of need, and step up to ensure that New York State can get on the road to economic recovery by prioritizing the well-being of every New York family and supporting the passage of the Excluded Worker Fund.”
Organizations supporting the strike include: Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Street Vendor Project, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Laundry Worker Center, the Workers Justice Project, Red de Pueblos Transnacionales, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Community Resource Center, Labor Alliance of Westchester, Obreros Unidos, Neighbors Link, the Don Bosco Community Center, United Community Center of Westchester, the Yonkers Sanctuary Movement, Jahajee Sisters, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and Churches United for Fair Housing.