Eloisa Velasquez has been working as a housekeeper for last five years.

But with two kids at home, this past year has been difficult as she saw her hours significantly reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, the state created a first-in-the-nation $2.1 billion fund to help people like Velasquez who do not qualify for federal pandemic relief due to their immigration status.

“We need that money to pay some of the bills, rent and other expenses due to the pandemic,” Velasquez said. “We haven’t received any help.”

Next month, the Excluded Workers Fund is expected to start taking applications, and this week the eligibility criteria was published on the state’s Department of Labor website.

But critics say the requirements will make it very difficult for many of the workers to access those funds.

What You Need To Know

  • Earlier this year, New York state created the first Excluded Workers Fund for those left out of pandemic relief from the federal government

  • The $2.1 billion fund is expected to start accepting applications as soon as next week

  • Critics say the regulations to qualify are too restrictive and will leave thousands who need it most without relief

“The Excluded Workers Fund legislation gave a lot of discretion to the Department of Labor in implementing this program,” said Democratic State Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens. “But unfortunately, I don’t feel as though the objective here is the same, which is to really help as many New Yorkers as possible.”

One of the issues is that domestic workers, restaurant workers and others are often paid in cash and off the books. Employers may be reluctant to write a letter to the state admitting that’s how they paid someone. And proving past employment could be challenging.

“It’s a little bit hard to apply if you are being paid cash. And I think it is something that they have to consider because many people like me have been working and getting paid cash,” Velasquez said. “It’s unfair for us to be excluded.”

Another requirement is that the workers must have some form of identification.

“The reality of the pandemic is that a lot of people have not been able to renew their IDNYC, for lack of appointments,” Ramos said. “They haven’t been able to renew their foreign passports, because the consulates haven’t been open.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor (DOL) said, “This historic fund upholds the principles of equality and fairness that the DOL continues to work to ensure for all New Yorkers.”

“It is going to set a standard for the nation,” said Bianca Guerrero of advocacy group Make the Road. “So if we fail at reaching all the excluded workers, it’s not just going to be people in New York state that will see repercussions — we will likely see repercussions in other states.”

Six other states have since followed New York’s lead in passing similar funds. California’s is roughly the same size as New York’s, and Washington and Oregon are a mix of public and private money. Neighboring New Jersey approved a fund in its budget last month, but for only $40 million.

Here in New York, Roughly 300,000 people can be considered eligible.


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