Murphy announces $40 million for undocumented immigrants, others excluded from benefits

Posted May 07, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday announced a $40 million fund for undocumented immigrants and other workers excluded from economic aid during the pandemic, as part of a larger $275 million economic relief package.

The news comes after a nearly month-long hunger strike by undocumented immigrants who were desperately seeking financial relief after being excluded from most forms of direct economic aid, including unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, since the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the job market and economy 14 months ago.

Groups representing the workers on Friday called it an important first step but fear it still won’t be enough to help the community.

New Jersey residents who were excluded from relief like unemployment and stimulus benefits will be eligible for the fund regardless of immigration status or whether they file taxes.

People who can show they were excluded from relief and affected by the coronavirus pandemic can claim up a one-time payment of $1,000, with a household maximum of $2,000. The income threshold will be roughly $55,000.

The $40 million pool of money will be made up of Coronavirus Relief Fund, the last remaining dollars from the the federal CARES Act. And depending on the guidance for using the $6 billion in American Rescue Plan money, there’s potential for a second round of money, administration officials said.

The group of 35 essential workers who are on a hunger strike released a statement that they will end the strike because of Friday’s action, but said the fund “will only reach a fraction of the population of excluded workers and their families, and is not nearly enough to meet the vast and desperate need.”

The other $235 million in the package are state funds allocated for small businesses and non-profits, after seeing a high demand for financial assistance to the Economic Development Agency’s programs from New Jersey business owners. Childcare facilities and bars and restaurants also have a carveout in the relief package.

“COVID-19 has created unimaginable challenges for our economy over the past year,” Murphy said in a statement. “As we emerge from this pandemic, we need to make targeted investments in both our small businesses and our workforce to lay the foundation for a stronger and fairer future that works for everyone.”

The governor’s office expects the pot of money to help from 20,000 to 30,000 residents. It’s unclear when the funds will start being distributed or when they will reach residents in need of cash assistance.

None of New Jersey’s 460,000 undocumented immigrants were eligible for most forms of pandemic-related financial help, which often times also excluded children and spouses who are American citizens. The undocumented community includes many who were essential workers — janitors, kitchen staff and food delivery services — and people who lost their jobs with no recourse, said Make The Road New Jersey has said.

And undocumented workers contribute more than $600 million in state and local taxes, and more than $1 billion to the state’s unemployment fund in the last decade, according to a Make the Road study.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz., D-Essex, said she was disappointed the governor’s office didn’t create a larger pool of money, or release the CARES Act funding earlier.

“I’m just confused, from my perspective, why this wasn’t offered earlier in the pandemic. This doesn’t even begin to address the whole need, but if this is a starting point, then consider me a partner to finding a bigger, better, broader solution,” she said.

Over the last 14 months through rallies and overnight protests on the Statehouse Annex steps, the undocumented community has pleaded to the governor, a self-declared progressive Democrat, and the Democrat-controlled state Legislature to no avail until Friday’s announcement.

The governor’s administration said those conversations have been productive, despite advocacy groups like Make the Road and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice previously equating the amount to a drop in the bucket.

“We are...bitterly disappointed that many brave champions of this fight will not be reached by the initial amount and, in additional weeks of fasting, cruelly had their hopes dashed that the State would offer more,” the NJAIJ said in a statement NJ Advance Media, adding the group will push the governor to replenish the fund.

The organizations had been calling for the governor and state Legislature to pass relief that would offer weekly $600 checks to replace unemployment benefits, and $2,000 stimulus checks.

New Jersey’s fund is comprised of federal dollars, unlike New York and California, which were able to appropriate a much more generous amount of money through their state budgets. New York’s $2.1 billion fund passed by the state legislature is the biggest in the country, providing up to $15,600 to eligible undocumented workers.

A bill introduced by Ruiz in the New Jersey legislature in May 2020 that proposed a similar amount of money for tax-paying undocumented immigrants hasn’t been put up for a vote.

“This doesn’t have to wait for legislation to make every effort. When the state gets the regulations for the ARP funds, if there’s a clear pathway to utilize that money, I hope the fund gets automatically replenished,” Ruiz said.

The governor’s office has also pointed to other strides Murphy has made for the undocumented community, including the recent roll out of driver’s licenses and that documentation is not required to apply for rental assistance.

“Too many workers and their families will continue to go hungry. We will look forward to working with Governor Murphy and the state legislature to increase the funding to provide recovery we so desperately need and deserve,” the group of hunger strikers added.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-05-08 04:49:00 -0700