Posted on April 1, 2021

New York Lawmakers Want to Give Billions of Dollars to Undocumented, Former Inmates

Bill Mahoney, Politico, March 30, 2021

State lawmakers in New York appear close to agreeing on a multibillion-dollar fund to provide unemployment benefits to undocumented immigrants and former prison inmates who have been excluded from federal aid packages since the start of the pandemic.

Talks between legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office have progressed to the point that they are now focused on how the relief plan, called the Excluded Workers Fund, would work “programmatically,” said state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), one of the most vocal champions of the proposal. “Right now discussions are around eligibility and access.”

It would be the country’s most-ambitious such program by a wide margin. California officials have gained national attention for a couple of relief programs for undocumented immigrants, including one last spring that provided $500 checks to a relatively small number of people who were able to connect with an overwhelmed phone system.

New York’s proposal would provide some recipients with more than $27,000.

“This level of investment is absolutely historic for our communities,” said the New York Immigration Coalition’s Vanessa Agudelo. “It’s the biggest investment any state has made to provide this level of relief to those workers who have been excluded from those unemployment benefits as well as what’s been passed in the stimulus package.”

Beyond the magnitude of the program, the potential deal is notable for another reason: there has essentially been no public opposition to it.

That’s particularly notable given the amount of political hay Republicans have made out of other programs benefiting undocumented immigrants and formerly incarcerated individuals in recent years. New York’s DREAM Act, which passed in 2019 and provided $27 million to make more non-citizens eligible for college financial aid, was the subject of years of election-season ads attacking “free tuition for illegal immigrants.”

Republicans have held several news conferences about various issues in Albany since Democrats in the Senate and Assembly released budget proposals that included $2.1 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund. But they didn’t focus on this issue. {snip}


That silence might lead some to hypothesize that at least a few GOP officials are happy to let the proposal become law so it can become electoral fodder next year.

“They want this to pass with the most crazy terms possible so they can campaign on it,” said a source familiar with negotiations. “They want to make this a political issue if it passes.”


Recipients would retroactively receive $600 for each week they were unemployed from March 27 through July 31, 2020. They’d receive $300 for each week from Aug. 1, 2020 through Sept. 6, 2021.

Anybody who hasn’t worked for the duration of the pandemic would thus be eligible for an immediate payment of $20,700 and could eventually receive an additional $6,600.