After N.Y. fund for immigrant workers is nearly depleted, advocates say N.J. fund is too small

New Jersey allocated $40 million to New York’s $2.1 billion

By: - October 13, 2021 6:58 am

The state expects the fund will help 40,000 families. (Courtesy of Make the Road New Jersey)

Across the Hudson River, immigrant advocacy groups celebrated the $2.1 billion New York allocated for a long-awaited Excluded Workers Fund, available to struggling undocumented residents who were ineligible for federal stimulus checks and jobless benefits.

Now that pool of money, claimed by over 300,000 people in the two months since applications opened, is almost gone, according to Documented NY.

Here in New Jersey, activists have long worried the $40 million state officials set aside for its own Excluded Workers Fund will not be enough. With New York’s fund nearly depleted, immigrants and their advocates are reiterating their call for Gov. Phil Murphy to allocate more.

“The speed at which New York’s Excluded Worker Fund has been spent is a reminder of the urgency New Jersey has to add to the initial investment made in our own fund,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

Sara Cullinane, executive director of Make the Road NJ, a champion for labor and immigrant rights, noted people have tried to survive for more than a year “without a penny in relief.”

“New York’s was the closest to an equitable fund, and the fact that it was exhausted so quickly, New Jersey will face a similar if not more rapid depletion,” Cullinane said.

$40 million is 4% of what some advocates say is necessary to help everyone in need.

New Jersey immigrants have been waiting for applications to open for the $40 million fund, which was announced in May after a 24-day hunger strike by 30 undocumented immigrants. Advocates say the fund will reach less than 10% of the undocumented residents who were left with no direct financial assistance when the pandemic began.

People who can show they were affected by the pandemic and excluded from coronavirus-related relief, like stimulus checks and unemployment payments, can claim up to $1,000, with a maximum of $2,000 per household. The income threshold for applicants is $55,000.

State documents show the program is expected to begin accepting applications Oct. 22 and will end when funds are exhausted or Dec. 30, whichever is sooner. The Department of Human Services launched a website Wednesday so residents can check their eligibility. 

It’s expected to help 20,000 to 40,000 families, the documents say. Chia-Chia Wang, organizer with the American Friends Service Committee in Newark, worries there are many more families who won’t receive the funds and will continue to see their bills pile up. She’s also concerned the money won’t be distributed before the end of the year.

“I think it will be helpful, but we’re really talking about $2,000. Overall it’s a good step forward, but I think New Jersey should strive to provide more for immigrant communities and families, because a lot of people still don’t have money to pay rent,” she said.

Since the program was announced, advocates have urged Murphy to allocate more money, calling it “insulting” to allocate $40 million. Members of the Legislative Latino Caucus previously called for more relief money for the Garden State’s 460,000 undocumented immigrants.

Asked to comment, Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro noted the state’s budget includes money to provide rental, tuition, and legal assistance to New Jerseyans regardless of immigration status.

“Any additional state and federal funds must be approved by the Legislature, per budget language. The Murphy administration will continue to explore how it can support recovery from the pandemic for all residents,” Alfaro said in a statement.

The speed at which New York’s Excluded Worker Fund has been spent is a reminder of the urgency New Jersey has to add to the initial investment made in our own fund.

– Amy Torres, Executive Director of the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice

Murphy previously hinted at a second round of funds after protestors shut down a section of the NJ Turnpike in June. At a Tuesday debate with his GOP challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, Murphy declined to say whether he will approve a second pot of money.

Make the Road NJ has called for $989 million to be set aside to provide the equivalent of an average unemployment check of $600 and a $2,000 stimulus check to migrant workers. They’ve pointed to New York’s program, which offers up to $15,600 for eligible workers.

Wang said she is concerned the application will be cumbersome and request unnecessary documents. Some activists recalled the hurdles undocumented immigrants faced when obtaining their driver’s licenses.

“If the process is difficult, people may not apply. If they have to spend hours and hours and the application isn’t translated, they’re not going to apply. If the application is challenging and the amount given to individuals or family units are already small, I’m concerned whether people will come forward to apply,” Wang said.

In New York, Documented NY reports applicants began receiving approvals three weeks after the fund opened. More than $1.35 billion is scheduled for distribution or has already gone out, and for applications submitted after Sept. 24, the N.Y. Labor Department said it can’t guarantee funds would be available.

“This is a learning opportunity for us — when comparing our state’s population size and community need, New Jersey’s initial investment is small. We should thus expect equal if not higher demand,” Torres said.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.