Gothamist reported last week that nearly all of the $40 million fund established for excluded workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, was being returned to the state. Only about $6 million had been distributed. “State officials say they didn’t receive enough applications to use the $40 million,” the report said.
But advocates said that not only was the application process just too arduous, the state also didn’t conduct enough outreach to communities that needed the funds the most. Only about 2,600 New Jersey residents were approved. As previously noted, advocates said states like New York tapped out their excluded worker funds, dispersing more than $2 billion to over 130,000 residents.
In its statement, the state’s Legislative Latino Caucus said it would seek “answers on how the $34 million came to be diverted and also find out to what programs the money was allocated.”
“We are greatly disappointed by this poor stewardship of resources that were designed to lift up those in some of our most under-served communities,” members said. “How something like this could happen, in a time when New Jersey’s families are already facing unparalleled hardship due to the pandemic, is beyond comprehension.”
A coalition of advocates also held a press conference urging the fund be replenished under an improved system. Excluded workers like Make the Road New Jersey member Felix Gallardo desperately need it. Yahoo reports that when he contracted COVID-19 at his food service job, “he didn’t get a penny in unemployment or a single stimulus payment—despite paying taxes for 25 years.” He applied for relief under the excluded worker fund, but has heard nothing.
“It’s been months of going back and forth on documentation,” he said in the report. “My son and I desperately need support and so do hundreds of thousands of people across our state.” While the state said it would direct $10 million in other funds to continue applications, the deadline is in just days, at the end of the month.
“We campaigned tirelessly for all those excluded from the federal stimulus to receive this assistance,” said SEIU 32BJ Executive Vice President Kevin Brown. “Unfortunately, the application process was not only difficult, but impossible to access by our non-English speakers. We encourage the Governor’s office to reinstate these funds, fully fund the program, and ensure the systems in place are effective and user-friendly to our members.”