Blast NJ Immigrant Rights Advocates for ‘Raiding’ COVID Fund
NEW JERSEY — A federal fund meant to help “outcast” New Jersey residents amid the coronavirus pandemic has pulled out $34 million, and a growing chorus of immigration advocates and Latino lawmakers are demanding to know what that happened.
For more than a year and a half, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey immigrants have been left behind while their neighbors receive much-needed financial assistance to help them through the coronavirus crisis, including stimulus checks and a unemployment assistance.
All the while, advocates have been pushing lawmakers to create a fund that would help ease the burden on Garden State residents who have slipped through the cracks. Their efforts seemed to be rewarded in the fall of 2021, when the New Jersey Department of Social Services launched the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund. Eligible households could initially get a one-time payment of up to $1,000 per person, with a maximum of $2,000 per household, an amount that was eventually doubled.
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But only about $6 million of $40 million had been distributed to about 2,600 applicants by Dec. 30, the deadline to use federal COVID relief money that was fueling the fund, Gothamist.com reported. Read the full article here.
The remaining 34 million? It was reallocated to state expenditures from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which included payroll and other departmental costs incurred during the pandemic, the governor’s office said.
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Since learning about the money transfer, a chorus of lawyers and lawmakers have demanded that a spotlight be put on the situation.
On Friday, the New Jersey Latino Legislative Caucus released the following statement:
“We are deeply disappointed by this mismanagement of resources that have been designed to uplift those in some of our most underserved communities. How could something like this happen, at a time when New Jersey families are already facing unprecedented hardship due to the pandemic, is beyond comprehension. We discovered this problem along with the rest of the public. At this time, we are doing our due diligence to find a way forward and implore the administration of work with the Latino Caucus to find an immediate remedy for this problem. Thousands of workers continue to struggle in the wake of the pandemic. We cannot allow this mismanagement of relief funds to come at the expense of those who need it. need.
The caucus includes Senators Nellie Pou, Mr. Teresa Ruiz and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, as well as Assembly members Gabriela Mosquera, Yvonne Lopez, Annette Quijano, Eliana Pintor-Marin, Angelica M. Jimenez, Pedro Mejia and Annette Chaparro .
On Wednesday, 15 speakers from a coalition of community leaders, organizations and advocates gathered for a virtual press conference, denouncing the misappropriation of $34 million and demanding that the fund be replenished.
New Jersey’s initial $40 million program pales in comparison to New York’s neighboring $2.1 billion fund, advocates said, alleging the application process was complicated and the program was “put in place.” room for failure” from the start.
Felix Gallardo, who identified as an “essential immigrant worker”, said he had worked hard in the food industry during the worst months of the pandemic – knowing it was for a good cause. But when he caught COVID-19 at work and couldn’t go to work, he didn’t receive a penny of unemployment or a single stimulus payment – despite paying taxes for 25 years.
According to some reports, undocumented immigrants in New Jersey are paying $1.1. billion in federal taxes and $600 million in state and local taxes annually, and donated $1.3 billion to the unemployment insurance fund for the past 10 years.
“That’s why I joined a hunger strike to win New Jersey’s first excluded fund,” recalled Gallardo, a member of Make the Road New Jersey.
Gallardo said he applied for the fund, but still hasn’t been accepted.
“We’ve been going back and forth on documentation for months,” Gallardo said. “My son and I are in desperate need of support, as are hundreds of thousands of people in our state.”
Other advocates and community leaders who have protested against the reallocation of funds include:
Tiburcio Cuautle, member of Cosecha New Jersey – “I feel very bad about this news we just got, they have cut off economic assistance to immigrant families in New Jersey. Once again they are shutting us out, they have left us out of the assistance that the governor promised before and during his re-election campaign for our immigrant community. Once again, the politicians and the governor are playing tricks on us and deceiving us. We are essential workers but they are calling us disposable. They have sabotaged this process of economic aid from the start to make it fail. It’s not fair, it’s a mockery of my working community! Economic justice now!”
Itzel Hernandez, immigrant rights organizer for the American Friends Service Committee – “$16 million in relief is an insult to our communities. The pandemic is not over, in fact, it continues to claim the lives of our friends, families and loved ones every day. The Governor has promised a $40 million in funding, and his word has to be worth something. It’s shameful and a stain on the Murphy administration to continue to deny clawback for all.”
Reynalda Cruz, New Labor organizer – “We are disappointed and feel cheated by our state and Governor Murphy. It has been a long struggle to make the fund work for New Jersey workers excluded from federal economic support. The pandemic has destabilized us economically and mentally. To say that the $40 million that was set aside for excluded workers would largely be withdrawn is an insult and disrespect to workers who are still excluded nearly two years into the pandemic. to return all funds to the Excluded New Jerseyan A New Jersey Excluded Workers Fund, an improved and streamlined application system, and funding streams for organizations that appreciate the important outreach and follow-up work.”
Diana Mejia with Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center – “Our communities were already excluded, and continue to be, despite the fund. The amount of documentation required was a lack of understanding and compassion for our immigrant workers. A large part of our community does not know how to use a computer, how to fill out the application, or upload documents. These are major barriers for our community to apply. Those who need the most help have been excluded due to these barriers. Nevertheless, we encourage our immigrant community , our essential workers, don’t be intimidated by these requirements and be sure to keep applying.”
Rev. Carmine Pernini with Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rahway, Faith in New Jersey Board Member – “It is extremely disheartening and infuriating to read a headline that on the one hand promised funds to those excluded from stimulus checks – undocumented families and people returning from the criminal (in)judicial system – and unemployment, and somewhere else read that it was just that, a headline or political grandstanding where words and actions don’t line up. It makes absolutely no sense to make an application process so complicated in order to discourage those who need access to relief funds Of course the government will say that the provisions are to ensure that the funds go into the hands of the worthy, of course I say this looking away from the many pass” that are given to the wealthy in the form of tax benefits and preferential treatment often bestowed with a handshake and a wink, but punishing the “least of them (Matthew 25)” with an excess of documentation and standards that make the process impossible to complete fits well into many government “relations” “ief” programs. Of course, as if planned from the start, the funds go straight back into the pockets of those who pledged them and their agencies and projects. Following the example of Christ, generosity must be free and go from the bottom up to those who need it most and not the other way around.”
Nicole Rodriguez, Research Director at New Jersey Policy Perspective – “It’s no secret that immigrant families in New Jersey have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Providing relief to these families is not just the moral thing to do, but the best decision. policy that a state can take. Immigrants are an integral part of New Jersey. Jersey’s vibrant communities and local economies. Simply put, when immigrants do better, we all do better – and New Jersey’s pandemic response Jersey should reflect this reality.
Amy Torres with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice – “From the first day the Trump administration’s federal stimulus checks shut out our communities, we’ve advocated for a robust state response that would fill the void and bring the relief our communities deserve. Immigrants and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to deep structural inequalities that deprive our communities of access and protection.The refusal to respond seriously to the demands of this coalition, even when we have remained at the table in good faith since the inception of the New Jersey Excluded Fund, is an insult to our communities and perpetuates the same harmful inequalities that caused this damage in the first place. We stand firmly in solidarity with this coalition to demand $1 billion in aid and to incorporate community feedback on app enhancements that will make this fund truly accessible to all who are eligible. ible for this.”
Kevin Brown, Executive Vice President and NJ State Director of 32BJ – “We have campaigned tirelessly to ensure that anyone excluded from the federal stimulus receives this assistance. Unfortunately, the application process was not only difficult, but impossible to access for our non-English speakers. We encourage the Governor’s office to restore these funds, fully fund the program and ensure that the systems in place are efficient and user-friendly for our members.”
The coalition of organizations asking for help includes: ACLU of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee, Casa Freehold, CATA, Cosecha, Faith in New Jersey, Laundry Workers Center, Latino Action Network, Make the Road New Jersey, National Day Labor Organizing Network, National Domestic Workers Alliance, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Labour, SEIU 32BJ, Unidad Latina en Accion NJ, and Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center.
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