Ask comes after $2.1 billion fund nears depletion following soaring demand
NEW YORK :____ On a press call today, excluded workers and advocates demanded Governor Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers pass an additional $3 billion for the state’s Excluded Workers Fund, which stopped accepting new applications earlier this month as the original $2.1 billion allocated for the fund runs close to empty just two months after it began taking applications.
“Since the Excluded Workers Fund opened up, applications have been through the roof. This fund is already changing the lives of New Yorkers across the state and the need for more funding could not be more clear,” said Bianca Guerrero, coordinator of the Excluded Workers Fund coalition. “Governor Hochul and state lawmakers should listen to the voices of workers across New York and add $3 billion to the Excluded Workers Fund in the coming budget cycle so that all workers who are eligible have access to this critical lifeline.”
On October 8, the Department of Labor stopped accepting new applications for the fund, which is designed to provide financial support to workers who were shut out from state unemployment and federal pandemic aid programs. To date, more than 99% of applicants for the fund have received Tier 1 benefits.
“After Covid-19 began, my family and I were left without work and without any housing. I still have no steady work or economic resources to secure housing. I have had to move to different places to stay with friends and family who have been able to offer housing. My documents are not with me at my current housing, and I have not been able to sort through and find the documents to submit my application. We’re asking our Senators and Assembly Members and the Governor to take responsibility to support us and extend the fund for excluded workers that we’ve been asking for since the pandemic began,” said Sonia Vasquez, a member of the Workers Center of Central Central New York who provided testimony on the call. A farmworker and mother of two children, Vasquez has yet to be able to apply for the fund.
On the call, advocates and fiscal policy experts explained why the existing $2.1 billion would not be enough to serve all eligible workers across the state, pointing to data from the Fiscal Policy Institute that shows that the workers estimated to have been approved for funding to date represent just a quarter of all undocumented workers in New York State. Speakers also pointed to an FPI estimate from April, just after the fund was passed, that predicted nearly 300,000 workers would be eligible to receive funding — and that a third of those would be eligible for Tier 1. So far, only about 125,000 workers have been approved, nearly all of them for Tier 1. Advocates also noted that thousands of applications were still flooding in when applications closed, a sign that demand hasn’t yet abated.
“While we applaud the Hochul administration for moving this funding out the door so quickly to New Yorkers who need it, we also know that many other New Yorkers haven’t even had the chance to apply because they’re waiting on documents, shut out by policy barriers, or don’t yet know about the fund,” said Nadia Marin-Molina, Co-Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “There are still thousands of workers across New York State who could be eligible for the fund, and that’s why we’re calling on Governor Hochul and our state lawmakers to make sure they’re not left behind.”
“I’m one of the hunger strikers who fought to secure this program. But I have not been able to apply because I am still waiting for identification documents from the Bangladeshi Conculate, and they said they will take a couple more months. But the program has already ended. I couldn’t apply to the very program that I fought to win. We need more money and more time for the fund,” said Afsana Pervin, member of DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving.
Advocates on the call also hinted that they would fight for more lasting changes in the coming state budget session to ensure that the social safety net doesn’t leave out excluded workers in future.
“The Excluded Workers Fund exists because immigrant workers and their communities across the state fought for it. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were shut out of any relief funds during a global pandemic for over a year. Even a hunger striker herself may be excluded from the fund they were forced to starve themselves to create,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Deputy Director of the Street Vendor Project, on the press call. “We are calling on Governor Hochul and the state legislature to add $3 billion to the Excluded Workers Fund in next year’s budget. In the meantime, we are calling on Gov. Hochul to use every means in her power to find additional funding to cover all workers who have already submitted applications. For this program to be a true success, Governor Hochul must ensure that every excluded worker who needs assistance receives it.”
The Excluded Workers Fund opened in August after a year-long organizing effort by excluded workers throughout the state. Excluded New Yorkers fought tooth and nail to be able to access economic relief that will allow them to get back on their feet after losing their incomes and unjustly being left out of federal and state government support during the pandemic.