New York will offer $15,600 one-time payments to undocumented workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic, as lawmakers approved a $2.1 billion fund in the state’s budget to help those who missed out on stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers struck a deal on the excluded workers fund as part of the new $212 billion state budget agreement reached Tuesday – five days after the April 1 deadline.
The fund will provide assistance to around 300,000 New Yorkers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 but, due to their immigration status, were not eligible for other pandemic-related relief.
The agreement, which was one of the most hotly debated parts of the budget and led to divisions within the Democratic party, comes after protesters held hunger strikes and rallied outside government buildings demanding support for the state’s undocumented population.
New York will offer $15,600 one-time payments to undocumented workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Pictured excluded essential workers at Washington Square Park in NYC Wednesday after the funds were approved
Lawmakers approved a $2.1 billion fund in the state’s budget to help those who missed out on stimulus checks and unemployment benefits
The $2.1 billion program will provide cash payments to workers who suffered income loss due to COVID-19 but were ineligible for unemployment insurance or related federal benefits due to their immigration status.
This works out at $300 per week for the last year since COVID-19 started ravaging the nation and the economy.
Workers will be required to provide documentation to show they live in New York, were ineligible for federal unemployment benefits and lost income due to the pandemic in order to access the funds.
Documents accepted to prove eligibility include driver’s licenses, state-issued IDs, birth certificates, school transcripts, utility bills, bank statements, a letter from an employer, pay stubs, wage statements or wage notices, and a previous W-2 or 1099 tax form.
Others may be eligible for a smaller payment of up to $3,200 if they can only prove residency, identity and provide some work documentation.
The fund was sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos, a progressive Democrat from Queens, and passed in the Democratic-controlled State Senate and Assembly Tuesday.
Cuomo said Wednesday in a briefing that the state wanted to show ‘compassion’ to undocumented workers.
‘Just because you are undocumented doesn’t mean we don’t care and we don’t have compassion, and we don’t want to help,’ he said.
However, the governor voiced concerns that the fund could attract attempts at fraud.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (above) and state lawmakers reached a deal on the excluded workers fund as part of the new $212 billion state budget agreement finalized Tuesday
Cuomo had pushed for a requirement that applicants give an individual taxpayer identification number to receive the money but this idea was shelved due to concerns this would exclude a segment of undocumented immigrants without such IDs.
He said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and New York State Attorney General Letitia James will review the scheme before it is rolled out.
‘It is difficult to do it in a way that can be administered without fraud, and that’s obviously a major concern for us that we protect every tax dollar,’ he said.
‘We ran an unemployment insurance program for citizens of the state, there was tremendous fraud even through we took significant measures.
‘On this program, we’ll ask the comptroller to review it before it is administered. The comptroller’s job is to audit state funds.
‘After a program is run, the comptroller will come back and do an audit and said, you did this wrong, this wrong, this wrong, this wrong.’
He added: ‘In this case, we’re asking the comptroller to look at the program first to make sure the way it is designed, there are fraud protections.
Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes but are not eligible for stimulus checks or unemployment benefits. They were hard hit amid the pandemic with many turning to food pantries in the absence of government aid (people at a food pantry in Queens in March)
‘And we’re asking the Attorney General to specifically review the program, the guidelines, the rules, to make sure there are anti-fraud protections.’
Cuomo vowed to ensure ‘100 percent integrity for tax dollars’ and said payments will not start going out until the state makes sure taxpayer funds will reach the right people.
‘Until the Attorney General reviews and signs off on the program, we will not implement the program, because we want New Yorkers to know, yes, we’re compassionate and we’re doing the right thing, but we’re also doing it smartly and intelligently, and the Attorney General’s approval of the program will do just that,’ he said.
Cuomo did not give a timeline for when undocumented workers will start receiving payments.
Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes to the US economy each year, paying an estimated $11.7 billion in state and local taxes in 2014, according to the most recent data from the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy.
The latest data from the Internal Revenue Service in 2015 shows 4.4 million income tax returns were filed by workers who don’t have Social Security numbers, accounting for $23.6 billion in federal income tax that year.
But undocumented workers are not eligible for COVID-19 stimulus checks or for federal unemployment benefits.
And they were especially hard hit by the pandemic, as industries such as construction ground to a halt when the virus started ravaging America and stay-at-home orders were issued.
The $2.1 billion program, sponsored by NY State Senator Jessica Ramos (above) will provide $15,600 cash to around 300,000 workers who lost income to COVID-19 but were ineligible for other pandemic relief
Immigrants were also said to be at increased risk of the virus as they lack the same access to healthcare.
In the absence of government aid, many were forced to turn to food pantries to survive.
Protesters demanding support for undocumented immigrants held demonstrations as the budget was being negotiated by lawmakers.
A three-week-long hunger strike took place outside the governor’s Manhattan office to call attention to the plight of undocumented workers.
But the inclusion of the fund has divided opinion among state lawmakers.
New York Republicans opposed the allocation of the budget, which coincided with the hiking of income taxes on the state’s millionaires to the highest rate nationwide.
Republican Minority Leader in the State Senate Rob Ortt hit out at the focus on immigrants when other New Yorkers also continue to struggle due to the pandemic.
‘Democrats are raising taxes and using your federal stimulus dollars to enact a radical agenda rather than helping veterans, small main street businesses, teachers and senior citizens,’ he told the New York Times.
The fund even caused rifts within the Democratic party with freshman Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo accusing Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti of ‘disrespect’ on Twitter
William A. Barclay, the Republican Minority Leader in the Assembly, agreed saying the billion-dollar price tag would ‘resonate’ with citizens also hard-hit.
He said many would think: ‘Wow, I struggled through this whole pandemic, I’ve followed all the rules, have paid taxes and done everything I’m supposed to be doing.’
The fund even caused rifts within the Democratic party between progressives and moderates, with five Democrats in the state Senate voting against the bill.
In the run-up to the vote, sources said several had voiced concerns privately.
The infighting spilled over on social media as freshman Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo accused Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti of ‘disrespect’.
‘Yes, I gave you the finger after you called me a ‘smart ass’, which many people can confirm. You will not disrespect me & go unanswered,’ she tweeted Tuesday morning.
‘I didn’t misrepresent anything about you, but you chose to call me out of my name. Trust me, we are all seeing your true colors now.’
A protest last July calling for help for excluded workers impacted by the pandemic
Protesters held hunger strikes and rallied outside government buildings demanding support for the state’s undocumented population
Abinanti fired back telling her to tell ‘the whole story’ and said his views on the bill were ‘misrepresent[ed]’.
‘So why don’t you tell them the whole story – that you gave me the finger while I was speaking in the Democratic Conference about people misrepresenting my position on the excluded worker bill?’ he said.
Ramos, who led the fund, told the Times the fund would help those who have suffered this last year.
‘I’ve met neighbors who have not been able to pay rent, or put food on the table, or been able to provide their children with a laptop when a public school has not been able to provide one,’ she said.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said to deny the funds would be ‘immoral and unjust’.
The final budget approved included changes to initial plans being debated and is also lower than the $3.5 billion called for by activists.
Supporters of the fund had called for people recently released from prison to be included but this was left out of the final bill.
Despite the amendments the final fund is still the largest of its kind in America, far greater than a similar scheme in California where undocumented immigrants were given a $500 one-time payment.