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Undocumented New Yorkers to benefit from $2B relief fund

Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y (WCAX) - New York’s recently approved budget includes $2.1 billion in pandemic relief for workers that have been otherwise excluded from federal funding, including undocumented immigrants. Supporters say it’s something that needed to happen, but some North Country lawmakers say the money should have been used elsewhere.

“Prior to the pandemic, I worked at a nursery that closed,” said Gladys Mejia, a mother of three young children in Ontario County. She says like many, the pandemic has been tough for her and her family and she hasn’t received any federal cash. “Really difficult because of the pandemic, especially economically -- and other reasons -- but more so economically.”

The undocumented worker says she’s grateful that the state is stepping in to help families like hers to help pay the bills after being out of work. “It’s important for so many families to pay rent, to pay for groceries,” she said.

The money will come from the Excluded Workers Fund that includes $2.1 billion for undocumented workers who were affected by the pandemic but weren’t eligible for any federal money like unemployment and stimulus checks because of their immigration status. “Putting their lives at risk every day to provide while they’re not getting anything,” said Hellen Cordova with the Workers’ Center of Central New York.

The money will be divvied up at two separate tiers. The first includes $15,600 per worker -- which equates to the unemployment benefits many received over the last year.

The second is $3,200 which equates to the three rounds of stimulus payments. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates 290,000 undocumented immigrants in New York will be eligible for at least one tier.

“This is something that we needed to do and something we were really working hard to make sure that we passed,” Cordova said. She says her grassroots held statewide protests and hunger sit-ins to get their point across. “I think it just shows the power of the people and the power to be heard regardless of your status here.”

But Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury is among lawmakers who say there could have been a better use for the $2.1 billion of taxpayer dollars. “What is our state’s obligation? What is the taxpayers’ obligation? What is the appropriate use of tax dollars? Not $2.1 billion to people who are here illegally that were working off the books in the first place. I don’t want to reward illegal activity with tax dollars,” he said.

Mejia says she’s grateful and that her story is just one of the many stories like it across the state. “It is not only I who needs it but it’s people who really need the money,” she said.

A big concern from some lawmakers is the potential for fraud, including someone coming in to New York and trying to claim the money when they’re not actually eligible. The Worker’s Center says they encourage anyone who is eligible and living in the state to bring paperwork from their home country and proof of loss of income over the last year. It’s a felony to try and claim the money if you’re not eligible.

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