Thousands still waiting for money from immigrant workers fund
People lined up in Trenton in February to apply for the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund. Many of the applications filed right before the deadline remain under review, the state says. (Sophie Nieto Muñoz | New Jersey Monitor)
On December 10, Josè Martinez sat with an organizer at the American Friends Service Committee to apply to the state’s Excluded New Jerseyans Fund.
It’s been nearly four months, and Martinez still hasn’t received his money, he said. He was notified in mid-March the state had accepted his and his wife’s applications, but they haven’t received the $4,000 they are expecting.
“This is supposed to be the first time we’re getting any help, but we haven’t gotten any yet. It’s really confusing,” said Martinez, an undocumented immigrant living in Bergenfield.
New Jersey launched the fund in October 2021 to aid workers excluded from federal and state pandemic aid, largely undocumented immigrants. Since then, the state has disbursed $12.7 million to about 5,500 applicants, representing about 20% of the total amount the state had set aside, according to the Department of Human Services.
Of the 36,000 total applications filed — they were due about a month ago — 30,000 remain pending, either because they are missing necessary documents or they still need to be reviewed, a department spokeswoman said.
Chia-Chia Wang of American Friends Service Committee, a Newark-based advocacy group, noted “the main purpose of the program was to give money to people who need support as soon as possible.”
“People are feeling frustrated and starting to make assumptions,” Wang said. “If the system was simpler and more straightforward … the program would’ve gone much better.”
Department of Human Services spokeswoman Eva Loyaza-Mcbride said a high number of applications filed in late February, when more than 3,000 people applied in the final days before the application deadline, are still missing required documents.
About 100 people in total, including state workers and people from the community-based organizations that helped people apply to the fund, are reviewing the submissions, Loyaza-McBride added.
Reviewing one application can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, she said. The review includes confirming applicants meet basic eligibility requirements and going through their documents. The process takes longer when applications are missing documents since the full review can’t be completed until they are provided, she said.
In those cases, state workers and organizations follow up with applicants to help them upload missing documents, like letters from their landlords or bank account information, she said.
Everyone who has applied and is missing paperwork received at least two contacts from reviewers, Loyaza-McBride said.
Juan, a 40-year-old applicant who asked not to use his last name to protect his immigration status, said the overall process has been confusing and made him feel like he had to jump through many hoops to be approved for $2,000.
At first, someone contacted him to tell him he was inegligible because he had received a stimulus check, although Juan said he didn’t. With the help of reviewers, he helped clear that up, but his application is still pending, he said. He is not hopeful he will receive any money.
“I feel like they won’t give it to me. It’s been so long we’ve been waiting – one month, two months, three months. It’s just easier to accept they won’t give it to us,” the Palisade Park resident said. “I filled the application out in case I have a chance, but I don’t know.”
Martinez, who had open-heart surgery in 2018, putting him out of work, feels the same way.
“I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting. I applied so early on, and it’s been so long, so I guess I will just keep waiting,” he said.
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