New York to offer COVID aid to immigrants excluded earlier

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Demonstrators gather to declare victory and celebrate the passage of the New York state budget with the ending their compatriots hunger strike that lasted 23 days, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in the Manhattan borough of New York. New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, could apply for help from a new $2.4 billion rental relief program that will offer 12 months of overdue rent and utilities, three prospective months of rent and a year of eviction protection. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

ALBANY, N.Y. – In the largest program of its kind, New York lawmakers have created a $2.1 billion fund to aid workers who lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic but were excluded from other government relief programs because of their immigration status.

The fund, which passed this week as part of the state budget, will give payments of up to $15,600 to workers who were living in the country illegally and weren't eligible for federal stimulus checks, unemployment aid, or other benefits.

As many as 300,000 workers might benefit, according to some estimates.

Other states have offered aid to unauthorized workers, but nothing on this scale. California's relief fund offers cash payments of up to $500.

The creation of New York's program showed the strength in the state of Democratic Party's left wing, which has been increasingly emboldened as the state's leading centrist, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has wrestled with a sexual harassment scandal.

The fund will offer much-needed relief to people like Felipe Idrovo, 52, an immigrant from Ecuador who lives in Queens. He lost a job working in food distribution in March 2020 and now owes a year’s rent on his small bedroom.

“I cannot jump, but I am really, really happy,” Idorvo, a board member of Make the Road New York, an immigrant-led advocacy group whose members participated in a 23-day hunger strike in support of the legislation. “My heart is happy but my body is torn down," he said as he and other activists broke their fast at a rally Wednesday in New York City.

Sponsors of the legislation, including Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat, said the maximum benefit under the fund amounts to $300 per week — less than the average aid received by other unemployed workers.