On Wednesday, March 24, community leaders and activists came together at the Safe Harbors Green in Newburgh to call for a $3.5 billion excluded workers fund, which would support undocumented workers, in the New York State budget. It comes at a time when “communities continue to recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.”
The excluded workers fund would “provide direct, flat rate monthly cash payments to excluded workers on par with the unemployment benefits other New Yorkers have received.” The push includes having the payments be retroactive to when the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago.
The state-wide issue has prompted dozens of workers in New York City and Westchester County to go on a hunger strike for days, showing their support for a fund like this one. A study from the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that the $3.5 billion fund would have a positive impact on 40,000 workers just in the Hudson Valley. A September 2020 study from Data for Progress shows that nearly 70 percent of likely voters in the Hudson Valley support “higher taxes on the wealthy to provide economic relief to excluded workers.”
“This fund will provide desperately needed economic assistance to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been excluded from federal state and economic relief,” said Rene Mejia Jr. of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, the organization that hosted the event.
A personal testimony from Delfina Espinosa, member of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, spoken in Spanish and translated to English, described her first-hand experience of being treated unfairly during the COVID-19 pandemic because she is undocumented and doesn’t have a social security number. She compared herself to being “treated worse than a dog with rabies” when trying to get a COVID-19 test or even a vaccine, while simultaneously having to navigate coming up with the funds to afford a COVID-19 test and having enough to afford rent, food and other necessities.
“With the lack of a social security number, I have been left out of any economic help,” said Espinosa. “How many people are in a similar situation and died in their homes because they didn’t get any of that help, similar to my situation of being in a pandemic that we had no part in. Are we at fault? When are we actually going to put an end to this pandemic if we’re not equal to everyone?”
Mejia read a statement, signed by a number of Hudson Valley organizations, describing how the excluded workers from the stimulus bills are the ones that “do tough physical and emotional labor such as growing and harvesting our local crops, serving and maintaining our local restaurants, landscaping and caring for our loved ones.” Despite their work, the letter said how they are often paid with low wages and do not qualify for much assistance.
Those who spoke at the March 24 press conference are calling on Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to call on their fellow legislators and deliver $3.5 billion in relief. Right now, $2.1 billion in relief stands at the table with the New York State Assembly. However, Mejia said it wouldn’t be enough to retroactively fund these workers as well.
“The funds would be financed through a tax on New York State residents with $1 billion in net assets,” said Monteverde. “That’s a drop in the bucket. They’re not going to feel that. It makes sense to me to tax the rich to fund the excluded workers fund.”
The fund would support more than undocumented workers.
“Millions have lost their jobs, their health insurance, their homes and even their lives,” said Newburgh City Council Member Omari Shakur. “While our government has provided some relief to help us get back on our feet, they have neglected to take care of the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Undocumented workers, people recently released from incarceration, domestic workers, and many more have been excluded from qualifying for unemployment or government aid. That’s hundreds of thousands of workers who have been left without a cent of support for more than 300 days.”