100 days without a job, without relief | Opinion

Posted Jun 16, 2020

By Yolanda Calderon

Yolanda Calderon is the mother of two children. She has paid into the unemployment insurance fund out of every single check, but it's a fund that she can never collect from, even after she lost her job during the pandemic because she's an undocumented worker. She urges Gov. Murphy to provide relief for all workers and all families.

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Tomorrow, June 17th, marks 100 days since Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in New Jersey because of the pandemic. It’s also about 100 days since I lost my job and 100 days that I have lived without any income whatsoever.

I’m the mother of two children, an active 10-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl who loves to write and read science fiction. We live in an apartment in Elizabeth and they go to schools in the city. For years, I worked for a cleaning company, cleaning houses and restaurants, but once the pandemic hit the work dried up and I was sent home. I haven’t been able to find work since.

Because of my immigration status, I’m not eligible for unemployment insurance despite having paid into the system in every paycheck. In fact, undocumented people like me in New Jersey have contributed to the unemployment insurance system even though we are never able to access it. 

I’ve also done my taxes every year since I came to this country when my children were young. Undocumented people like me file taxes. We pay $600 million in state and local taxes in New Jersey and $1 billion in federal taxes each year - but we are not eligible for the EITC or Child Tax Credit, even if our kids were born here. We also can’t get food stamps or TANF.

To make it through the pandemic and to keep food on my kids’ plates, I’m stretching food donations, cans our neighbors drop off and support from community organizations for as long as it will go. There are days when I go hungry so they can eat. Last week, I went to the hospital because I had severe stomach pain. I don’t have insurance and I was afraid I might get sick with coronavirus if I went to the hospital. The doctor told me it was stress and told me to come back in July. Even the copay for charity care is beyond my means now, and I’m worried about being able to pay for my visit. Sometimes, it’s only our faith that gets us through the week.

I lay awake at night and wonder what will happen to my kids if I get sick.

The landlord comes asking for the rent each month. I keep telling the landlord, wait, wait. As soon as I have a job I will pay you. But three months of rent are now piling up. I know we won't have enough money to pay all these months of rent once the pandemic ends. I'm going to face eviction.

The Trump administration’s decision to exclude undocumented workers and our U.S. citizen kids from stimulus relief - and to penalize the U.S. citizen spouses of undocumented people by denying them stimulus payments, too, is cruel and vindictive. We pay our taxes, even when it’s a hardship to pay them. We contribute to unemployment but we can never collect. We are part of our communities just like you. We clean houses and restaurants so others can stay safe.

New Jersey has the chance to pass a recovery that includes all of us. Our state won’t bounce back unless all of us are included in relief efforts. Our health literally depends on our neighbor’s health. I urge Governor Murphy and the state legislature to provide disaster relief assistance to all workers in New Jersey, and to all families. We won’t be strong as a state unless we are all included in the recovery.

Yolanda Calderon lives in Elizabeth and is a member of Make the Road New Jersey.

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