N.J. budget excludes planned $53M program for some undocumented immigrants

By: - July 1, 2022 1:27 pm

Gov. Murphy in March proposed one-time direct payments of $500 to undocumented immigrants who were ineligible for federal and state pandemic aid. (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)

A pandemic aid program for taxpaying undocumented immigrants was excluded from the $50.6 billion state budget that takes effect today, despite Gov. Phil Murphy proposing $53 million in aid when he proposed his spending plan in March. 

Murphy’s plan sought to give one-time direct payments of $500 to about 80,000 households who file taxes with an individual taxpayer identification number and have not received other types of pandemic aid. The numbers are typically used by immigrants who are not American citizens to file taxes since they do not have Social Security numbers.

No line item in the budget, signed Thursday by the governor, includes any payment for undocumented residents who pay taxes. The Murphy administration said the program’s exclusion from the budget does not mean it is not happening.

Christi Peace, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the governor remains committed to establishing the program he put forward in March to assist taxpayers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and looks forward to doing so “within the parameters” of the budget.

The spending plan provides an avenue for Murphy to spend federal pandemic aid without legislative approval. Lawmakers agreed to create a $300 million pot of federal funds for Murphy to use on COVID-19 relief. He can make one allocation of $60 million without seeking lawmakers’ OK but is limited to $20 million or less when spending the rest of the money.

Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said she was disappointed to see New Jersey’s lack of investment in diverse populations even after the calls to end structural inequality during the summer of 2020. 

“Our state needs deep investments in direct-relief programs for the poor, the undocumented, and the excluded and must urgently update government tools, like language access, for responding to and preventing future crises. It will be up to history to decide whether it is cruelty or incompetence that those who suffered least in the last two years are reaping the most from New Jersey’s historic surplus and federal relief dollars,” she told the New Jersey Monitor. 

The Department of Human Services continues doling out money from the state’s Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, which provides up to $4,000 to undocumented immigrants and other residents ineligible for pandemic aid. About half of the expected $60 million has been distributed to 13,000 residents. Advocates for undocumented communities and progressive activists have been calling for a $1 billion fund for immigrants and their families.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), seen as a champion for Latinos in the state Legislature, did not comment specifically on why the $53 million fund was excluded from the budget, but said she is proud to see other investments that will help all families, regardless of immigration status. She pointed to new funding for school construction, the expanded child tax credit, and universal preschool expansions. 

“The best opportunity we have in here is that we have a pool of money that is secured for a rainy day and also a program moving forward, so wherever we need to revisit things and fund policies for the lives of every single New Jerseyan, that’s what I’m committed to doing,” she told the New Jersey Monitor.

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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.