Advocates Call on NYS to Fund Accessible Pandemic Relief for Undocumented Workers

by LAURA SMITH


ROCHESTER, NY--State budget negotiations usually go to the wire. But the negotiations this year have continued past the April 1st deadline. According to the Cuomo administration, one of the sticking points is the appropriate level of taxation to fund economic support for people impacted by the pandemic, with the Governor having concern that increased taxation could negatively impact economic recovery.


Among those impacted by the pandemic are some 300,000 New York State residents advocates are calling "excluded workers." They include workers who are paid in cash or who lack documentation, such as agricultural workers, day laborers, and those recently released from incarceration.


During a virtual press conference Wednesday, advocates and local state representatives gathered to show their support for a proposed $3.5 billion fund to help excluded workers who have received no state or federal financial support throughout the pandemic.


Sara Curtis from the Rochester-based Worker Justice Center of New York said that last-minute budget amendments could mean as little as 25% of excluded workers would be able to apply to the fund.


"Governor Cuomo is introducing last-minute what we're calling poison pills to restrict access to the fund that we've been working on," Curtis said. "Excluded workers don't have official strict documents such as payroll records or bank account records or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers. And so we cannot create a fund with these really strict requirements that would prevent thousands of workers from getting help."

Sonia Vasquez, an excluded worker in Onondaga County, spoke Wednesday about what an excluded worker fund would mean to her family.


"I'm a farmworker and mother of two children," Vasquez said by way of an interpreter. "Since COVID-19 began it's affected me and my family so much. We were left without work and without housing."


"We thank the community groups that have brought us some food, but it is not enough. We need to have food every day and that is why we're here today, so that our representatives listen to us and recognize us as essential workers," Vazquez said.


State Assembly members Sarah Clark and Demond Meeks, and State Senators Jeremy Cooney and Samra Brouk all spoke out strongly in favor of the fund being accessible to as many excluded workers as possible.


Senator Brouk expressed her support for other legislators and excluded workers who are currently on hunger strike to highlight the critical need for this funding.


"We all are fighting this fight with you, legislatively, and I know that others of our colleagues are fighting literally with their own bodies to ensure that this funding gets included and that it's not symbolic or tokenism," Brouk said.


"When I hear the types of barriers that are proposed to be put in place, then what we have is a symbolic gesture. If we are not willing to do the work to make this $3.5 billion accessible and ensure that it's getting to the people who need it, then this is nothing more than a gesture."

As of Monday morning, it was still unclear exactly when the final budget might be approved, but officials say the details are being slowly hammered out.


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LAURA SMITH is a volunteer reporter for Reclaiming the Narrative. She can be reached at wxirnews@gmail.com.