The $ 40 million cash assistance program for New Jersey residents who have not received any other federal assistance from the pandemic has reached the payment limit but will continue to accept and execute applications until the Feb. 28 deadline, the state said.
The Department of Social Services, which runs the New Jersey Excluded Residents Foundation, said in a statement that Gov. Phil Murphy would allocate any additional funds needed to fulfill applications using federal dollars available for cash from the U.S. Rescue Plan, a comprehensive aid to the Biden administration. a package that was released in the states in March.
Raquel Velázquez, 58, is a Spanish-speaking employee of an undocumented restaurant in Elizabeth. She was infected with the virus and lost her job in 2020 when the pandemic came. She did not receive federal aid from the pandemic – the eligibility criteria for the fund. She said she applied on the second day after the fund opened in late October and received payment on December 24. The funds she used to pay expenses related to her family’s health, buy food and some bills she had to.
“Justice has been done to everyone like me. Because we work just like everyone else does [manual] labor, and we contribute to the government with our taxes, “Velazquez said.” I hope that all those in need apply and can help them as well as me. “
Many undocumented workers experience violations of labor rights by their employers because of their status, even if they are entitled to occupational safety and health under federal law.
Eligible people receive $ 2,000, a maximum of $ 4,000 per family.
Supporters of mostly undocumented and low-paid workers appreciated the announcement and expressed relief after the state streamlined the application process in January, three months after a major deployment during which the fund’s performance was criticized as “cunning”, complex and set By the end of the year, when the fund was due to expire, far fewer applications had been submitted than expected.
The Murphy administration then extended the term and added $ 10 million in the new year.
Members of the community, already disappointed with the implementation of the fund, were still outraged to learn a few weeks later that The Murphy administration has diverted $ 34 million in unused funds to domestic spending and wages. The news was first reported by The Gothamist in January.
As a result of outrage, the state rushed replenish the fund to an initial $ 40 milliononce again extended the deadline and removed a key hurdle – applicants no longer need to show evidence that they have been affected by the virus.
The coalition of immigrant organizations attributed the “reset” of the shooting by the state to pressure from lawyers.
“Thanks to huge community pressure to simplify the Excluded New Jerseyans application, we are arriving at this point – less than 3 weeks after the process improved, the number of applications exceeded the amount of money originally invested by the state in the program,” Amy said in a statement. Torres of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigration Justice.
The New Jersey Excluded Residents Fund opened in late October. By the end of December, only a part – 6 million dollars – had been spent, which means that the state was able to successfully collect applications for the rest, the largest part – 85% – of the fund within a month.
Since the fund was replenished and the process revised, things are going more efficiently, defenders say.
The state streamlined the application process by removing the requirement for applicants to show evidence that they were affected by COVID-19. This could mean proof that a family member died from causes related to the virus, or that they should rent, or that they lost their jobs during the pandemic. For many undocumented workers who receive cash or work in temporary agencies, proving job loss is difficult, advocates say. Many had no evidence that they themselves had contracted the virus due to lack of access to health care and insurance.
The state has also stepped up promotion of the fund, advocates say, working with mayors and religious groups to raise awareness of the fund.
“We have been working since the first day, we are working on filling out applications, you can clearly see the difference [since the state made changes]”- said Gloria Blanca, coordinator for the promotion of Wind of The Spirit, one of the six organizations that the state has hired to conduct advocacy and assistance in submitting and uploading their applications and documents.
“Previously, the application was longer, there were more requirements for it. Now, after them [the state] decided not to ask for the influence of COVID, it became easier for people to comply with the requirements, faster to fill out applications. Our communities can get most of the necessary documents. “
Blanco said that now the application process also provides more flexibility. For example, tax returns that undocumented residents file using numbers issued by the IRS rather than Social Security numbers can now be used in more ways to demonstrate the need for assistance.
Diana Mejia, director of Wind of the Spirit, said the state had asked the organizations they hired to focus more on advocacy than on evaluating applications.
“We did clinics in Plainfield, Moristown, Hackettown, Pompton Lakes. We made fewer estimates and covered more. Immigrant communities use many different documents and certificates from different countries. Therefore, evaluators need to know the culture and different countries, especially in Latin America, that people use to identify themselves, ”said Mehia.
Lawyers criticized the state for not investing enough in promoting the fund last year, so demand for the fund was low.
Blanco said increased attention to promoting the fund is crucial to tackling fraudulent agencies that offer notarial services, which in Spanish are called “notaries,” which charge $ 150 to $ 175 from potential applicants who don’t know what the state offers. free services.
“We are a mass organization and we know where to find our community. After the state made changes, we were encouraged to find our people and help them in this, ”Blanca said.
Sarah Cullinan, director of Make the Road New Jersey, another joint group that works with the state, said her organization was doing up to eight clinics a week as demand grew.
“We have queues, in some situations we had to turn people away. The need is very great, ”she said.
Wind of the Spirit helped 1,400 entrants. The company Make the Road New Jersey said it helped about 3,000 people.
Former prisoners returning from the justice system are also entitled to benefits. Make the Road said it had helped 20 homeless and previously inmates apply for help.
“We are pleased to see that more and more people have taken advantage of the extended rights to participate in the program and the extended application deadline for this benefit. Interest has increased as applicants no longer need to demonstrate the negative impact of COVID to be eligible to participate, ”said Eva Loisa-McBride, a spokeswoman for the Office of New Americans, which manages the fund.
To date, the state has received 21,500 applications, Loisa-McBride said. A total of 4,100 applications were approved, and funding for more than $ 9.5 million.
Another 15,249 applications are pending or requiring additional documentation.
In addition, 531 were not eligible, and the remaining 5,000 odd applications are a combination of withdrawn or repeated applications.
Supporters continue to call for additional assistance of $ 1 billion to meet the needs of nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants in the state.
Patricia Compass-Medina, president of Latina Civic Action, a member of the state’s immigrant coalition, urged state lawmakers to find ways to keep the fund open and funded, although she “approved” the governor’s announcement that he would provide assistance to all applicants.
“We also know that hundreds of thousands of immigrant families from New Jersey still need extra help. We urge the New Jersey legislature to work with the Governor of Murphy to find additional resources to keep the fund open and funded so that we can ensure that no one in New Jersey is left behind. New Jersey cannot fully recover as a state until everyone recovers, ”she said.
A statement issued by the state’s Latino Caucus Legislature thanked Murphy for replenishing the fund in January, saying its members “strongly” reassured the Murphy administration of the importance of recovering money that was diverted to domestic spending, though Senate Majority Leader Senator Theresa , did not confirm The Record, or she spoke directly to Murphy on the matter.
Mary Ann Corut covers education and immigrant issues for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey schools and how it affects your children, sign up or activate your digital account today.