New York to make $2.1B available for excluded workers, including undocumented immigrants. Here’s how it works.

New York is set to give payments to thousands of workers living in the country without legal permission excluded from federal benefits and unemployment payments during the pandemic due to their immigration status. 

The excluded worker fund, included in a $212 billion budget deal passed by the state Legislature last week, can also provide payments for other low-income workers who weren’t eligible for the relief measures. 

The fund can provide payments of $15,600 or $3,200 to eligible recipients, depending on the criteria they meet. That is much higher than the $500 one-time cash benefit that was set aside in a similar program in California. 

In New York, the program is estimated to help nearly 300,000 people living in the county illegally, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank.  

Despite pushback from some lawmakers over eligibility, the creation of the $2.1 billion fund was an achievement for progressive advocates who held hunger strikes and protests across the state to push for the creation of the fund. 

A protest for the excluded workers fund in New York. April. 5 2021 (Photo: Make the Road New York)

“With the passage of this fund, we’re fighting for the dignity of all people,” said Assembly Member Carmen De La Rosa, a Democrat. “We’re fighting xenophobia in New York State. We’re fighting the notion that the haves are better than the have-nots.” 

Here’s more about the program, and who qualifies for it: 

How to apply

A person eligible for the excluded worker benefit will have to apply with the state Department of Labor, though that application process has not yet launched.

The application will not list the person’s citizenship, immigration status, or require the applicant to prove that they are lawfully present in the country. 

But the application will ask for proof of identity, current state residency, and work-related eligibility. All applicants must show proof of residency before March 27, 2020. 

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To establish identity, an applicant must produce one or more documents for at least four points of proof of identity. For instance, a non-expired state driver’s license by the Department of Motor Vehicles is worth four points. A marriage certificate is worth one point. 

An applicant may submit the same documents to establish identity and residency. Also, any individual who’s claims are rejected in whole or in part by the commissioner of labor can request a review. 

A protest for the excluded workers fund. April. 5. 2021 (Photo: Make the Road of New York)

How much money will excluded workers get? 

Under the budget, funding under the excluded workers fund is available to those who lost income or became unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and were  ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits or federal aid under the various stimulus packages. 

It’s also available to those who were ineligible for unemployment or federal stimulus and became the major breadwinner in their household because of a death during the pandemic.

The top tier of those receiving funds will receive $15,600, the equivalent of $300 a week for a year, which is on par with unemployment insurance, according to David Dyssegaard Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute. A non-undocumented worker who received unemployment insurance throughout the pandemic year, however, would have received much more money, he said.

To get that benefit amount, the worker would have to file a tax return either in 2018, 2019, or 2020 using a valid United States individual taxpayer identification. The person may qualify by submitting other information such as a letter from an employer documenting the dates of work and why the person is no longer working for that employer. 

Others who didn’t file a tax return but who can provide the other documentation could get $3,200. That is equal to the amount that some received in the three rounds of stimulus payments: $1,200, $600, and $1,400. 

An automatic deduction of $780 would be made for the higher tier and $160 for the lower amount. That money will be collected by the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

Those who made $26,800 in the 12 months preceding the program taking effect will not be eligible for payments from the excluded workers fund, according to the state budget.

Members of the New York Assembly debate in the Assembly Chamber at the New York State Capitol, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) (Photo: Hans Pennink, AP)

When does the program start?

It will be up to the state Department of Labor to come up with an application process, which should happen in the coming weeks. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his administration will ask the state’s attorney general and the state comptroller to review the fund to ensure protections from fraud. Cuomo added that the program will not be implemented until the attorney general signs off on the program. 

“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,” Cuomo said, adding: “It is difficult to do it in a way that can be administered without fraud.” 

In a statement last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James said her role is to make sure the program is constitutional. 

Follow Tiffany Cusaac-Smith Twitter: @T_Cusaac. 

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