The money has dried up.
It’s been four months since the applications for the Excluded Workers Fund closed. The fund largely served the estimated 300,000 undocumented workers in New York City. Many of them were essential workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
These workers were excluded from state unemployment insurance or federal stimulus checks due to their immigration status and thus provided a one-time payment to workers who lost income between March 27, 2020, and April 1, 2021. To receive compensation from the fund, people filled out an online application that determined their eligibility for payments up to $15,600. The demand for assistance was high and the fund was depleted quickly.
“The people that are excluded workers, they felt the worst brunt of the pandemic,” says Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), one of the organizations in the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition. “These are folks that are already underpaid, and so they had very minimal savings. The fund is really just like a lifeline.”
Unfortunately, there were many more applicants than the fund could support. We spoke with Javier Ahuatl, 42, last year when he first applied for the fund. He lives in Woodside, Queens, and was a busboy and waiter in Manhattan. He lost his job when restaurants shut down.
The New York State Department of Labor updated the status of Ahuatl’s application in December, saying he qualified for the fund’s $15,600 payment. But because funds had run out, he received nothing — among 75,000 qualified applicants denied due to insufficient funds.
“It was a lot of money and there were a lot of people who were really in need and the money could have been distributed better,” Ahuatl says. “Unfortunately, this pandemic was very difficult and it was very hard to recover this money.”
He supports his wife, three kids and a 23-year-old brother, who has a debilitating liver condition and needs dialysis treatments. After he applied for the fund, he got a job on a food truck. His wife cleans homes and collects bottles and cans for money.
“I had to use the credit card, but you can’t play with that,” Ahuatl says. “I have to be careful because I have to see how to save myself from [what I owe], because if not, I will be in serious trouble.”
The fund made a huge difference to those who could access it; Ahmed says the fund needs to be replenished.
“The people are still very much in financial need,” he says. “As we saw with the people that were able to access a fund, it made a huge difference in their lives.”
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition’s 2022 platform includes several proposals that can help families like Ahuatl’s. The two most important proposals are:Allocating $3 Billion for the Excluded Workers Fund
This money would come from the state’s $7 billion tax revenue and will be allocated to workers who were eligible for the fund but were denied because of insufficient funds. This money will also go to workers who were denied due to outstanding policy issues, for example, workers who mistakenly applied for the state’s unemployment program and received some money but were then denied further unemployment benefits when the state realized they were undocumented. This group of people were denied the full benefit of the state’s unemployment program because of their immigration status but were also denied compensation from the Excluded Workers Fund because they had received money.
Establishing an Excluded Worker Unemployment Program
This will require the “Excluded No More” S8165/A9037 bills that were introduced last week to pass, which will create a permanent program that will provide compensation to excluded workers such as undocumented workers, or workers paid in cash, who lose a job or income and are ineligible for unemployment insurance.
“We saw how this fund helped hundreds and thousands of folks and families be able to get back on their feet and regain some level of stability. But it took a lot of effort to fight for and win this fund, and it took a long time to win it and then get it set up and get the funds distributed,” Ahmed says. “We can’t keep relying on these temporary fixes every time a crisis breaks. We want to have a permanent alternative so that all New Yorkers are covered by the safety net.”
The money workers received from the fund provided them with great relief. Terri Allison was one of the lucky few who submitted her application early and was able to receive money. She qualified for a $3,200 payment.
“I qualified for the lower [amount of money.] Although any amount, it doesn’t really matter if it was like $10 is better than nothing,” she says.
Allison was a home health aide who also lost her job during the pandemic. She needed a payment from the fund because she became homeless and is living in a shelter. When Allison received her money she saved it all. It was enough for her to begin the process of moving out of the shelter and to help with a security deposit and a first month’s rent. She hasn’t moved out of the shelter as she still wants to save up a little more to buy furniture, but she has finally begun looking for apartments.
Allison was also able to go back to work as a home health aide, however, shifts are not as numerous as they were pre-pandemic, but it is enough to help her stay afloat. The money from the fund was a big help for her and her young daughter and she hopes other excluded workers can one day say the same.
“Immigrants tend to work very hard, and we didn’t get benefits and we were the ones dying too because we couldn’t quit our jobs and stay home. We had to go with the sick patients and die too,” she says. “They should [reopen the fund] because a lot of people when they tried to get this application done, didn’t know what to do with the papers. A lot of people, I think, were eligible but they didn’t know how to fill out the paperwork and stuff like that.”
The news organization told the story of Armando Isidoro, an excluded worker who had more than $3,800 stolen from his account in 10 unauthorized transactions. His dispute claim was rejected and he has not been able to get his money back.
The essential workers who make New York City what it is still need help. Here’s how: