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New York caps program that provided COVID-19 reliefs for workers ineligible for federal cash

The state of New York closed the application process Friday for a program that offered COVID-19 relief funding for workers who lost income because of the pandemic but were also ineligible to receive unemployment or federal assistance. And while more than $2 billion in funding will go to undocumented immigrants, some lawmakers and advocates are already calling for more funding for the program.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a release Friday that the funding approved by lawmakers in the April budget for the Excluded Workers Fund will be paid out by the end of the month.

According to the state’s Department of Labor dashboard, as of Monday afternoon, nearly 125,000 claims of the more than 350,000 submitted have been approved, with more than $1.2 billion having already been issued.

Democrats in Albany pushed for the funding to ensure that all workers who lost their job or saw a reduction in their wages got relief from the pandemic as well.

“We must ensure that immigrant communities are supported in our recovery, and I made a commitment from my first day in office to get relief to New Yorkers in need as quickly as possible,” Hochul said.

The fund set up two tiers for workers, with workers qualifying for more funding based on their ability to prove work status, income or state tax payments. The DOL dashboard showed Monday that more than 99.7% so far qualified for Tier 1 status, which meant they received $15,600 before taxes. That’s equal to $300 a week for a year.

Workers in the other tier would receive $3,200 before taxes, the equivalent of three stimulus checks.

According to The Century Foundation, three other states and the District of Columbia also approved funding for excluded workers. However, none approached the level of New York’s plan.

Washington state offered $1,000 in direct payments, with a cap at $3,000 per household. California offered two funds. The Golden State Stimulus awarded $1,200 or $600 based on eligibility. Its other disaster relief program issued $500 in prepaid cards, with a household cap at $1,000.

Colorado and the District of Columbia also offered $1,000 payments to excluded workers.

Although New York accepted applications until 7:30 p.m. Friday night, state officials have told applicants they cannot guarantee anyone who applied after Sept. 24 would be able to receive any funding.

Lawmakers who proposed the fund said they estimated about 500,000 workers in New York would likely qualify for assistance at some level.

Hochul added that it remains “a top priority” to help all New Yorkers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporters of undocumented workers plan to hold her accountable for that.

While Bianca Guerrero, coordinator for the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, had a quote included in the governor’s release, the group issued a separate, longer statement as well.

While the coalition thanked the Hochul administration for quickly getting the money to a community in need – applications became available in August – Guerrero said that thousands of potential beneficiaries faced tremendous hurdles in applying.

“In upstate New York in particular, organizations lacked the time to hire staff, complete sufficient outreach and assist workers with the applications,” she said. “Workers around the state have struggled to obtain the necessary paperwork, especially with consulates facing months-long delays.”

Some workers who participated in a more than three-week-long hunger strike will likely still not have their applications approved, Guerrero added.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, was a major supporter of getting the fund in this year’s budget, and at a coalition rally last week in New York City, she told the crowd she would work to get more funding from the state.

“We respect Black and Brown communities in New York,” she said. “People who pay taxes. People who the rich trust to raise their kids, clean their houses, clean up after their elder parents. If they trust us to do some of the most important and vulnerable work, well, they have to recognize our humanity and our sacrifices and our sweat and our blood and all the tears that we have put into building this country.”

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