Roadblock: Excluded workers block Midtown traffic as they seek $3 billion more in relief from Hochul

Advocates for excluded workers who finally received COVID-19 relief earlier this year want another $3 billion in assistance from Governor Kathy Hochul, and they made their case Wednesday by blocking traffic outside her Midtown office.

A day after Hochul outlined her proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year, a coalition of advocates assembled outside of 633 Third Ave. on Jan. 19 to demand a further $3 billion in funds to support excluded workers.

Preventing Midtown traffic from traveling Uptown, workers held hands and stood in place as angry motorists honked their horns and revved their engines.

“I am just trying to get to work!” one driver yelled.

Drivers sounded their horns in anger. Photo by Dean Moses
Gripping one another, demonstrators refused to allow traffic to pass. Photo by Dean Moses

As fury simmered, more protesters barreled into the roadway and unfurled a gigantic parachute to symbolize the need for a budget that would close gaps in our social safety net by aiding essential and excluded workers.

But when NYPD officers amassed and threatened the group with arrests, they returned to the sidewalk.

Advocates say the Excluded Workers Fund (EFW) created in 2021 was a mere bandage for a fraction of the population it was dedicated to, and permanent legislation must be made to provide economic relief and protections for undocumented workers. 

Throughout New York State on Jan. 19 advocates pushed for legislation calling for permanent alternatives to unemployment insurance and $3 billion to be added into the EFW.

Protestors chant their demands. Photo by Dean Moses

“The fight for the Excluded Workers Fund showed us how the safety net fails to reach many of the New Yorkers who need it most. It isn’t enough to just set up temporary fixes when we face a crisis. We need permanent solutions now to make sure workers aren’t left out in the cold the next time a crisis strikes,” said Bianca Guerrero, coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition. “The policies we’re calling for today will close the gaps in our safety net that leave workers behind and make our state stronger and more prepared when we face a pandemic or any other challenge in the future.”

Since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers who were already facing disparities were pushed into financial insecurity and while many citizens and permanent residents received stimulus checks and government aid, undocumented essential workers were left out. After months of protests and demands, the state legislature budgeted $2.1 billion for the EFW.

Advocates pushed for legislation calling for permanent alternatives to unemployment insurance and $3 billion to be added into the Excluded Workers Fund (EFW). Photo by Dean Moses

The EFW started accepting claims in August and has distributed approximately $1 billion to over 115,000 applicants. By the fall of 2021, the sheer number of applicants nearly exhausted the funds and applications would no longer be accepted. Even during the early protests, advocates stated that the money allocated to the EFW was not enough to cover all excluded workers living in New York, arguing that at least $3.5 billion would suffice.

In an effort to fight for more, permanent funds to be included in New York State’s budget, advocacy groups blocked roadways in Albany, Syracuse, Westchester, Long Island, Staten Island, and Hudson Valley demanding that excluded workers get their fair shot.

In addition to the $3 billion in funds, advocates are calling for meaningful protections such as excluded no more–permanent protections for undocumented workers, self-employed New Yorkers and cash earners—health coverage for all, street vendor legalization, and the passage of the Empire Act.

Protesters gathered outside of Gov. Hochul’s Midtown office on Jan. 19. Photo by Dean Moses