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Queens advocacy group calls for more healthcare access, immigrant protections

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Hundreds marched in Manhattan on Dec. 10 to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to invest in the Excluded Workers Fund. (Photo courtesy of Make the Road New York)

Make the Road New York (MRNY) announced its 2022 policy platform, the Respect and Dignity platform, which details a series of legislations to protect immigrants and working-class people of color across the state. One woman from Jackson Heights, who is a member of MRNY, has been organizing and hoping that MRNY’s activism will make a difference for her and others in her community. 

MRNY released the expansive list of policy proposals for the upcoming year on Tuesday, Jan. 25, ranging from healthcare access to expanded government aid programs. As the state prepares to approve a budget proposal in April, MRNY will be working over the coming months to advocate on behalf of their recommendations. 

Reyna Tellez, a mother of two from Jackson Heights, has lived in Queens since 1997 after emigrating from Mexico. She has personally struggled living without health insurance over the years, especially after finding a lump in her breast. 

“When I checked myself and realized I had a lump, I got really scared,” Tellez said. “So many things went through my mind, but I hadn’t been going to the doctor regularly for check-ups because I don’t have access to insurance.”

Tellez said that because she doesn’t have health insurance, she cannot get the necessary treatment to remove the lump. So now, all she can do is wait to see how the situation progresses without proper treatment. 

“I live with it. Sometimes it itches, sometimes it hurts, but I cannot afford a doctor,” Tellez said. “I am a mother of two children, and they worry about my health.”

MRNY is proposing a state-funded health care plan through the passage of Coverage 4 All and the New York Health Act to immediately give coverage to immigrants, regardless of status. MRNY Co-Executive Director Jose Lopez said that this is one of the most pressing issues they’re prioritizing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shed light on the inequities that exist for immigrant communities. 

“Throughout this pandemic, immigrant communities have really been on the front lines in our barrios,” Lopez said. “We’ve done a lot of praising of essential workers and immigrant New Yorkers for the role that they have played in keeping our city and state moving forward. We’re trying to make the case that we need to do more for immigrant New Yorkers than just give them applause when they step up.”

Lopez went on to say there are basic things that MRNY is fighting for that all people should have, like healthcare. MRNY is also working on expanding the financial aid program for undocumented immigrants, the Excluded Workers Fund. This fund dedicated $2.1 billion for immigrant families who were previously left out of crucial government support. 

“We know that there are between 200 and 300,000 other eligible and excluded workers who weren’t able to get access because the money simply ran out,” Lopez said. “We want to make sure every single New Yorker who was excluded is granted the basic dignity and respect they need.”

Lopez noted families were paying into the unemployment insurance program but were not eligible for aid due to their immigration status. MRNY proposes an additional $3 billion in funds and asks legislators to fix the broken system that unfairly leaves immigrants behind.

“Why is it that we think it’s OK that workers, simply because of their immigration status, can pay into an unemployment system and cover the basic social safety net for everybody else, but they can’t tap the benefits of that same program?” Lopez said. “It really is a question about the kind of state we want to become.”

MRNY is proposing other legislation, including renters’ protections as the pandemic eviction moratorium expired earlier this month, along with other housing access legislation to keep tenants in their homes and fight against evictions and homelessness. 

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