Supporters lobby for increase to Excluded Workers Fund

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NEWBURGH – Workers’ rights advocates and local elected officials gathered in the City of Newburgh, Wednesday, to request an increase to the proposed Excluded Workers Fund, which would provide COVID benefits to undocumented workers, those recently released from incarceration and others not eligible for unemployment and COVID stimulus benefits.

Supporters are rallying for the initially proposed $2.1 billion fund to be increased to $3.5 billion in order to provide for all the past rounds of stimulus relief not available to these individuals.

Delfina Espinosa, a local undocumented worker, said although they are paying their taxes and working through the pandemic, because they do not possess social security numbers, they are denied any state, or federal, relief. 

She said as those, like herself, have been working diligently through the pandemic, they have been vulnerable to their various debts like rent, internet and utilities. Although they receive no benefits and some don’t have health insurance, they are expected by their employers to be COVID tested to come to work; however, without relief and insurance, they have to pay up to $250 out-of-pocket for those tests. 

“I hope the next time, if I ever do get sick again, I hope that I’m not treated with the same treatment as having every single door closed on me as if I were a dog with rabies,” said Espinosa. “I hope that, this time, I’ll be treated better,” she said.

Senator James Skoufis (D-Cornwall) said the Senate has found extra money for the fund last week, but is not sure of the exact numbers since there have been different quantities money found between both the Assembly and Senate for the fund. He acknowledged the new ask is steep, but it is worth it for those who have been neglected for the past year whilst everyone else was provided relief.

“It’s a large number, but we have about a week’s left worth of budget negotiations and it’s clear to me that we ought to be doing something to recognize the, at times, heroic work of these essential workers who got no assistance whatsoever from the federal government,” said Skoufis.

If an increase to the fund is included, it must be done within the next week before the state budget deadline of April 1rst.