The state expects the fund will help 40,000 families. (Courtesy of Make the Road New Jersey)
After 19 months of undocumented immigrants and other residents falling into debt while being excluded from pandemic-era relief funds, New Jersey’s long-awaited Excluded Workers Fund began accepting applications Wednesday.
The long-awaited program, to be administrated by the state Department of Human Services, will be first come, first served, and will accept applications until its $40 million is exhausted.
People who can prove they were excluded from COVID-19 relief will be eligible for up to $1,000, with a maximum claim of $2,000 per household. Families with incomes of up to $55,000 can apply for the assistance.
The $40 million fund came after more than a year of rallies, overnight campouts, a 24-day hunger strike by 30 undocumented immigrants and activists, and pleas to the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature to help a community that was struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many undocumented immigrants held jobs that were deemed essential while other workers were able to stay home, according to a study done by Make the Road New Jersey, an Elizabeth-based labor and immigration advocacy group. Others were laid off from their jobs in construction or child care, or had to quit to stay home with their children, and had no recourse, since they were ineligible for federal stimulus checks, jobless benefits, and other cash assistance.
A WNYC analysis of confirmed deaths found COVID-19 killed young Hispanic men at seven times the rate of young white men.
In May, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the fund, which was tucked away in a $275 million business package. And while advocates celebrated the badly needed money, they called the size of the fund “insulting,” noting it would help less than 10% of residents.
In New York, the progressive arm of the Legislature pushed through a $2.1 billion Excluded Worker’s Fund, the largest in the country by far. But activists there say it’s still not enough, as the money dwindled weeks after that program was launched. Washington, California, and some cities have also created smaller pots of money for undocumented residents.
New Jersey’s Department of Human Services expects $40 million will help 20,000 to 40,000 people. Roughly 460,000 undocumented immigrants live in the Garden State.
The fund will also help people who were recently incarcerated and released, and people living in the United States courtesy of a visa.
Applicants must submit documents showing they were excluded from stimulus and unemployment checks, proving their annual household income, providing information on their residency, and explaining the financial hardship they felt because of the pandemic. Supporting documents can range from bank statements to unpaid bills to a letter from their landlord. State officials urged applicants to submit as much documentation as possible.
The application is free to fill out. There is no penalty if you do not receive the funds. Residents who are approved should receive their benefits within two to three weeks, the Department of Human Services said.
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