N.J. immigrant workers fund sees 6K new applications

By: - February 10, 2022 7:06 am

Make the Road New Jersey rallied for nearly 18 months to secure funds for excluded workers. (Courtesy Make the Road New Jersey)

Another 6,000 applications have been filed for the state’s excluded workers fund, two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy announced the restoration of the $40 million pool of money.

That brings the number of residents seeking cash relief to 17,000 — a number advocates are celebrating after the fund’s dismal launch, but one that leaves them concerned over the hundreds of thousands of residents who will be left behind once the money runs out.

“We see the application numbers going up, and that’s because it’s much, much simpler,” said Sara Cullinane, executive director of Make the Road New Jersey, an Elizabeth-based organization advocating for Latinos. The group is hosting sessions to help people apply until Feb. 28. 

In the four months since the fund launched, 3,700 applications have been approved and another 522 were denied. The rest are currently under document review or require additional documents to be submitted, the Department of Human Services said Tuesday. 

A spokeswoman did not respond to questions asking why the state thinks the approval rate is so low. 

Make the Road New Jersey is hosting in-person clinics to help people apply.

  • Wednesdays in February (4 to 7 p.m.): 42 Broad St., Elizabeth
  • Saturdays in February (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.): 1 Olive St., Perth Amboy, in partnership with the city of Perth Amboy
  • Saturdays in February (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.): 77 3rd St., Passaic
  • Saturday, Feb. 12 (beginning at 4 p.m.): Cristo Te Llama Church, 205 East Jersey St., Elizabeth
  • Tuesday, Feb. 15 (6:30 to 8:30 p.m.): Ironbound Community Corporation, 432 Lafayette St., Newark

The Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, which was funded initially through CARES Act money, had to follow strict federal guidelines with a hard deadline of Dec. 31, 2021. Due to the deadline and lack of applicants, the state redirected $34 million to state expenses.

When Murphy announced the state would add $24 million from the American Rescue Plan, the state said new guidelines allowed the application process more flexibility. Advocates had previously said the process was too complicated, pointing to the earlier round of applicants who had to file several documents to prove the pandemic’s financial impact.  

To be eligible for the fund, New Jersey households with incomes of $55,000 or less must show they were excluded from both federal and state pandemic assistance, such as bank statements or tax returns. 

People are encouraged to apply even if they may not have the required documents. 

The deadline for the fund is Feb. 28, but it can close early if funds run out. Money will still be distributed after applications close. 

Since its inception, activists have criticized the fund for being too small for undocumented residents who were left out of economic recovery: There is enough money to help roughly 20,000 families out of the half-million living in the state. When state officials confirmed 85% of the fund was reallocated, they were outraged.

Five nonprofits received a total of $900,000 to help with outreach and process applications. The Department of Human Services did not say if those groups will receive more money, or who is in charge of processing and approving those applications. 

DHS is holding community sessions and webinars on the application process, has translated documents into 12 languages, and is promoting the fund through social media and interviews with the press. 

“We’re keeping a very close eye. We want to make sure this program gets rolled out much more successfully than the first time around,” said Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic).

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, 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.