Activists call on New York State to make Excluded Workers Fund more accessible

Following a nearly month-long hunger strike, excluded workers in New York are still striving to ensure eligible community members get their fair share.

After primarily immigrant essential workers conducted several protests, marches, rallies, and even a hunger strike that lasted 23 days in an effort to raise awareness of their exclusion from Governmental COVID-19 relief, their battle was won with the addition of $2.1 billion into the New York State budget for the Excluded Workers Fund back in April — now it is almost time to cash out.

On Monday, July 12, the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition held a rally alongside elected officials, Make the Road New York, and others at the NYS Department of Labor office on 75 Varick St. to make certain everyone who can apply to the Excluded Workers Fund has the information necessary before the application becomes available in August.

A young girl hammers a makeshift drum. Photo by Dean Moses

While the application is set to be available next month for New Yorkers who make less than $26,208—excluded workers are still unsure how to prepare their paperwork since they have not been briefed regarding which documents to gather and ultimately submit. Additionally, they claim they have not been able to renew their municipal IDNYC nor make an appointment at a consulate for help.  

Immigration advocates say these individuals — many of whom hail from communities hardest hit by the novel coronavirus — were left behind during the recovery process, unable to receive stimulus checks or access unemployment insurance.

Street vendors, laundry cleaners, delivery drivers, and others scrambled to make ends meet for the past 17 months, some even losing their jobs due to COVID-19, and yet they received no aid despite still paying taxes. 

Excluded workers included those in the laundry industry. Photo by Dean Moses

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa joined activists and excluded workers to call upon the NYS Department of Labor (DOL), the federal government and other officials to support workers as they pursue their applications and shared the benefits of the fund.

González-Rojas represents a Queens district that was ravaged by COVID-19, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona, and Woodside, and she is fighting to make sure her constituents know their rights and the steps to proceed with their application.  

Assembly member Jessica González-Rojas says she has seen her constituents impacted during the pandemic. Photo by Dean Moses

“Our neighbors were deeply impacted. These are folks who put their lives on the line every single day and were not getting the relief that they deserved. Our communities deserve this money and these resources. It’s not just an immigrant justice issue, it’s a gender justice issue. It is women who have been most impacted by this,” González-Rojas said. 

Together these officials explained what preemptive steps to perform before the application becomes available and advised them how to request documents needed from employers. 

“We need cooperation because of the pandemic it has been increasingly hard for excluded workers to prepare for the launch of the fund. We are expecting the fund to launch in August, but therefore we want our neighbors to be able to start gathering all of the documentation they need in order to prove their residency, prove their identity, and prove their loss of income. We want the DOL to start sharing more information with us so we know what to expect for each tier 1 and for tier 2,” Ramos implored, calling for consulates to provide help for those applying for the fund as they attempt to compile the necessary documentation and make copies of certificates and other items, they might need to show that they qualify. 

Ramos says immigrants make New York better. Photo by Dean Moses

“There is not a lot of time. There is only a few more weeks until we expect the fund to launch and so we want everybody to be able to qualify. We want as many as our neighbors to qualify for the Excluded Workers Fund. What I think is going to happen is that New York State is going to realize just how many just people have been left out of wage replacement programs that were offered and how disbanded our economy has actually been for a long time. One universal truth is that our undocumented neighbors contribute every day to our economy and to our community and make New York better,” Ramos added to the rumbling of drumbeats.

According to Make the Road New York, the Excluded Workers Fund will provide help for approximately 290,000 workers in New York State, including 213,000 in New York City alone. Attendees had three core demands for the DOL: do not impose a high loss of income threshold, accept IDs and other documents excluded workers have not had the ability to renew thanks to the pandemic and provide in-person language accessible application assistance across the state. 

Fund Excluded Workers campaign coordinator Bianca Guerrero. Photo by Dean Moses

Additionally, FEW coalition groups announced that they will be offering outreach to potential applications across New York to aid with this process.  

Excluded workers call on DOL to provide better insight on the documents needed for the Excluded Workers Fund application. Photo by Dean Moses