More than 200 protesters gathered in Washington Square Park on Tuesday, Oct. 5 to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers to allocate additional relief for the Excluded Workers Fund (EWF), which has distributed aid to over 100,000 people left out of previous financial assistance programs.
The state legislature allocated $2.1 billion for the EWF in the budget this past April. About 115,000 applications have been approved for relief, 335,593 claims have been submitted and over $1 billion has been dispensed since the program opened in early August.
The EWF has less stringent requirements which allows many undocumented immigrants to receive aid. The fund is not only available to undocumented workers — anyone who was not eligible for and did not receive unemployment insurance or other COVID-19 income relief may be able to receive aid through the EWF.
The Department of Labor, who disburses the EWF, announced that as of Sept. 24 they would not longer guarantee funding for new applicants, even if they meet the eligibility requirements because, “the fund is nearing exhaustion.”
Advocacy groups and elected officials, including State Senator Jessica Ramos, said even though the fund is running out quickly, much more relief is needed.
“The Excluded Workers Fund is almost exhausted, but the need is still great — particularly for undocumented workers upstate,” Ramos said. “Having seen the impact, and also knowing that there are people out there who have gone through the time-intensive application process with no guarantee of success, it is clear that we must fight to extend the Excluded Workers Fund. The money is there, and the opportunity to set a national standard for immigrant workers must be met.”
The EWF was fought for and made possible by the Fund Excluded Workers coalition (FEW), made up of over 200 New York State advocacy groups who protested for a year leading up to the April budget resolution. The group held a 23-day hunger strike and a march that shut down the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
Make the Road New York, an advocacy group with FEW, spoke about their experience fighting for the funds.
“For more than a year we fought for the EWF,” said Angeles Solis, lead organizer at Make the Road New York. “Working people from across New York marched, shut down bridges and didn’t eat or drink to win this fund. Now we need to finish the job and make sure we don’t leave a single worker behind.”
Over 97,000 claims have been made by Spanish speakers, and 225,000 have been made by English speakers. Over 99 percent of applicants have received the highest tier of relief, which is a one-time payment of $15,600 before taxes.
Advocates also pointed out that upstate and rural areas of New York have had lagging applications.
According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York City is the only region that has a higher share of beneficiaries than there are undocumented workers. The city is made up of 73 percent undocumented workers but the region received 81 percent of shares from the EWF.
The Fiscal Policy Institute has credited these disparities to the amount of organizations that can help workers apply, the level of government outreach and how comfortable eligible workers — primarily undocumented immigrants — are coming forward to apply.
Long Island has 12 percent of the undocumented workers in the state but makes up 10 percent of EWF beneficiaries. Northern and Western New York has about 3 percent of undocumented workers with 1 percent of EWF beneficiaries.
The FEW coalition will be hosting a virtual press conference Thursday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. to continue putting pressure on state elected officials to allocate more funding to the EWF.