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Jackson Heights ‘excluded worker’ participates in hunger strike demanding COVID-19 economic relief

Dozens of Queens 'excluded workers' will take part in hunger strikes demanding to be included in COVID-19 economic relief. (Photo by Dean Moses)

A Jackson Heights woman was among the half dozen “excluded workers” from Queens to go on a hunger strike Tuesday, March 16, demanding full funding in the state budget.

Rubiela Correa was part of the lead vanguard from Queens — which is expected to grow to 30 in the coming days — participating in the “Fast for the Forgotten” in front of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine calling for $3.5 billion in funding to support workers excluded from federal and state COVID-19 pandemic relief programs including unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.

“Because of the pandemic, I’ve lost all my savings and all of my income. I am eight months behind on rent and unable to support my family,” Correa said. “I am angry that elected officials have turned their backs on us.”

Though the Senate and Assembly budgets include $2.1 billion in funding for the excluded workers, it is far less than than the $3.5 billion that workers are demanding, a figure that would ensure weekly payments on par with unemployment businesses other workers have received. Among the hunger strikers are the formerly incarcerated and undocumented New Yorkers.

“The government doesn’t ask me for my status when it wants me to pay taxes, but it bars me from receiving help,” Correa said. “Excluded workers have been through enough this year. We need support now.”

Hundreds of thousands of excluded workers across the state have received no income support from the government during the pandemic. An August 2020 Make the Road NY survey showed that 98 percent of unemployed undocumented workers had not received federal or state economic assistance.

“Despite the fact that I’ve been vending for six years, paying taxes like any other business, providing for myself and my family, I was intentionally excluded from all support and relief provided by the government. I haven’t received any support from the government, not even a penny,” Street Vendor Project member Mohamed Saad said. “What’s happening with us as immigrants and workers is unfair. The government must do their jobs and address our needs, the same way we do our jobs as workers and serve the state of New York.”

The federal stimulus package signed last week, like previous stimulus legislation, continues to largely tie unemployment insurance and other benefits to immigration status. Without action at the state level, working people across New York will continue to be denied relief.

“Workers are fasting today because they have been left with no other choice. For a year, hundreds of thousands of workers across New York have received no lifeline from the government even as their communities have been devastated by layoffs and the loss of loved ones,” New York Communities for Change Executive Director Jonathan Westin said. “The pandemic has affected us all, and lawmakers have a responsibility not to leave any workers behind in the recovery. Excluded workers have called for economic relief that matches the unemployment benefits that other workers have received. The state Legislature must listen to their demands and include a $3.5 billion fund for excluded workers in the final budget.”

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