Murphy is full of empty promises to excluded workers | Editorial

Published: Jan. 20, 2022

With cringeworthy political timing, Gov. Murphy made an inauguration day pledge to “ensure recovery to include every New Jerseyan,” and “move people forward without leaving people behind” -- just as he was performing a pull-the-chair maneuver on a half-million of them.

Thousands of undocumented immigrants had applied for assistance under the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, but WNYC reported Tuesday that only a fraction received checks from the state’s Department of Human Services – yet another gut punch for those New Jerseyans who pay taxes but are ineligible for SNAP benefits, unemployment insurance, or federal stimulus funds.

There was $40 million in the first tranche of the ENJF – which paled in comparison to New York’s $2.1 billion fund -- but the DHS had until Dec. 31 to spend it, and the fact that it only managed to distribute $6 million is a disgrace that requires some explanation, at least for applicants who ran out of time.

The governor’s office says the $34 million left over went to administrative costs and other state expenses eligible under the CARES Act – instead of going to the nursing aides and farmhands and factory workers who were the “essential labor” that kept the state functioning while many of us parked our pants on the couch.

If the governor believes that this kerfuffle calls for patience and understanding, he should probably expect to see more rallies, more sit-ins, and more noise from lawmakers. We hope he doesn’t see another round of hunger strikes, “which serve as a living metaphor for the impossible choices that these families have had to make,” as Amy Torres of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice put it.

No one said this process wasn’t complicated, even though New York found a way to help 130,000 applicants in just two months, and California got payments out to 150,000 households in just one.

And it’s fair to say that with as much as $4,000 on the table per household, Human Services had to be careful that people couldn’t game the system.

But judging by the testimony from immigrants on a virtual news conference, the documents required to prove Covid-related hardship – bank statements, doctors reports, death certificates, and complete tax returns – were difficult to collect during the application window. And despite the state’s effort in circulating flyers in 12 languages, outreach was clearly inadequate, as only 11,000 applied, with 2,600 approved.

An applicant, in most cases, also would need a computer, a working knowledge of English, and some experience uploading documents to beat the deadline. But some don’t have bank accounts, and it’s impossible to prove income if you are paid in cash, as some in the undocumented community are.

And though the state yesterday largely blamed the six community-based organizations that were contracted to help with applications and outreach, it doesn’t appear the DHS was ready even for the low turnout.

A Passaic resident, Felix Gallardo, said her application has been under review for three months: “When the fund opened in October, I applied quickly. But there were so many requirements, it almost seemed like they were trying not to give us the money,” she said. “It’s unjust and inhumane that the governor sees our productive value only when we’re working, but not when we need real help.”

It was hard to find a lawmaker taking Murphy’s side in this discussion yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) cannot understand why ENJF would have such a small window: “Because from an organizational approach, I cannot wrap my head around an Oct. 27th start date and an expiration date of Dec 31st,” she said, adding that she was “personally infuriated” at the memory of her 2020 Covid relief bill getting torpedoed by indifference to immigrants.

Senator Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), the Paterson mainstay who chairs the Latino Caucus, was outraged by the lack of outreach, asserting that “I can tell you for a fact that there was no one aware of this program in my city.”

The DHS is a monster, the largest department in the state. It has 6,000 staffers and, when you combine its state and federal funding, a $20 billion budget. It serves one out of every three kids in our state, and one in five adults. It does herculean work.

It can fix the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund muddle, assuming that is the choice of a governor who introduced the program with a three-sentence news release on a Friday in May.

But the fear and resentment are building. This is not merely about equality and fairness and opportunity. This is about fulfilling a governor’s promise of turning this state into a laboratory of civic reconstruction, instead of just another political face-plant.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-21 03:22:35 -0800