These New Jerseyans deserve a better holiday | Editorial

Posted Dec 25, 2020

There is a substantial group of New Jerseyans who are excluded in the fine print of the federal stimulus bill again, so their hope of getting a boost for the holiday season has been vanquished by another viral spread of beltway myopia.

They are undocumented immigrants, and many work as hard as anyone you know. They are often essential workers, they pay their taxes, and they were likely to get pummeled harder by the coronavirus than any other group in our state or nationally.

Yet they are not eligible for unemployment, even though they have contributed $1.3 billion in payroll tax in the last 10 years, they’re not eligible for food stamps, and once again, our federal and state governments allow this injustice to prevail.

T’is the season? Apparently not.

The federal bill under consideration is slightly better than the CARES Act in March, as it would cover some mixed-status families: If there is one member with a Social Security number, it is eligible for some aid. But if you are one of 2.2 million American-born children with two undocumented parents, you get nothing.

So based on calculations from New Jersey Policy Perspective, as many as 433,000 of our residents will still be ineligible for aid, if the bill that has passed Congress is signed.

What should we say to them, particularly those who risk their lives for lousy pay while they work our farms, deliver our food, staff our nursing homes, and do all the heavy lifting at supermarkets while the rest of us stay home?

More than 15 cities and states have provided assistance to their undocumented population, but New Jersey, to the everlasting shame of our elected leaders, is not one of them. A bill that would appropriate $35 million in aid has been stalled since the summer, and it could be reintroduced for the lame duck session. Speaker Craig Coughlin, however, only says the bill is “under review,” which is superfluous, given that it already has 25 co-sponsors in the Assembly and another 19 in the Senate.

Scores of faith leaders have added their imprimatur, including Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who points out that “we rely on essential workers, but fall short in what is necessary to protect and compensate them adequately — leaving them to be perceived as ‘unessential.’”

It is a matter of fairness, agrees Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), the budget stalwart: “Many people we’re talking about could be Dreamers, who are unquestionably part of the American community,” he said. “So people must not knee-jerk-dismiss this. There are too many people in this category that deserve the support.”

Yet the federal response is clearly inadequate. We must take care of our own.

In the end, hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans will be left to suffer, and as NJPP policy analyst Vineeta Kapahi put it, “Denying aid to hardworking families who need it is not only cruel, but bad economic policy. It’s once again up to state governments to step up so no family is left behind.”

That is a fitting homily for this day, a day when we remember a socially ostracized family that was forced to flee their homeland for fear of persecution, as the Gospel of Matthew describes them.

Like every great story, this one has a twist: This family, the poorest of the poor, gives birth to the Son of God, and that son later reminds us that every time we “welcome the stranger” — indeed, refugees and migrants — we welcome Him.

Whether or not you choose to kneel at the manger, this sacred day invokes a universal creed, and invites all to enter a circle of peace and a community of compassion, a place where the most forsaken among us can experience hope and d

Pass the word. These are not people we can afford to leave behind. Christmas will soon pass, but its spirit needs to get a grip on a few more lawmakers.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-12-26 03:47:04 -0800