The same coalition that achieved the Excluded Workers Fund in 2021 is now pushing for a program that would benefit 750,000 people to be included in the 2023 budget
After having managed to get an Excluded Workers Fund approved in 2021, during the most oppressive days of the pandemic in New York, which basically benefited immigrant and undocumented labor, now the same coalition is starting the engines to get it approved a $500 million fund for the Unemployment Bridge Program, which would expand permanent access to unemployment insurance (UI) to the self-employed.

If the goal of convincing Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Assembly leaders to pass this program is achieved, it would give freelance workforces such as digital media writers, hairdressers, day laborers, street vendors or gardeners an average relief of $1,500 monthly, if they lose their job.
This Wednesday this initiative that could cover 750,000 eligible workers with unemployment insurance, including 180,000 self-employed workers, was launched in several New York cities. In the case of the Big Apple, it was promoted from the Brooklyn Bridge, symbolizing the new name of the proposal that will try to sneak into the 2023 state budget.

“It hurts to see thousands of workers who work hard for decades and grow old, without having any benefits. Look right now, how are the corners with this cold full of people waiting for an opportunity and they don’t get it. This would not only be beneficial for thousands of workers, but also for the economy,” said day laborer José Peña.

This program would reach anyone who loses their job and cannot access unemployment insurance due to their immigration status.

Applicants must have earned below the State median individual income (currently $56,000) and have worked at least 18 weeks, in the 12 months prior to job loss.
The big news is that the proposal would also include formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, who are often forced to work for the state for pennies but have no access to a job safety net.

Documentation requirements would be much the same as those required to apply to the Excluded Workers Fund, including employer correspondence, direct deposits and self-reporting, as well as W-2,1099 or income tax returns.

Without excluding anyone

The budget and the structure of the unemployment insurance (Unemployment Insurance) that works in New York for conventional workers, would not be affected at all by this new provision, which would extend the benefits administered by the Department of Labor to those who demonstrate that they work for own account.
In this sense, Andrés García from El Centro del Inmigrante de NY recalled that during the public health crisis that appeared in April 2020 and almost completely paralyzed the economy, the subsidies for those who became unemployed were a great lifeline for everyone. the system will not collapse.

“That unemployment insurance model arose in the Great Depression of the 1930s, with the difference that it completely ignored blacks and immigrants. Now we are fighting so that it does not exclude anyone,” the activist said.

For example, there are an estimated 66,000 non-agency house cleaners, nannies and home care aides in New York state, according to the Domestic Workers Are Essential Workers Tax Policy Institute report.
The same report pointed out that 63% of domestic workers are immigrants. In addition, it is estimated that approximately half of immigrants are not citizens. The other half are undocumented. This implies that only in this category are close to 56,000 domestic workers who require protection.

In the specific case of construction workers, many work in small construction sites, as is the case of day laborers. At least 26,000 people fall into this category.

we have to hurry

The launch of the Unemployment Bridge proposal must be approved by the State Assembly and signed by Governor Hochul, before April 1, so that it can enter into force this same 2023.

“They told us that it was practically impossible to request a fund for excluded workers in the midst of a pandemic and we succeeded. We fought for $2.1 trillion to distribute to workers who were essential to our economy. Now we present this permanent plan for non-traditional workers,” said Assemblywoman Karine Reyes.

For her part, state senator Jessica Ramos, who represents Queens, described the idea of this unemployment insurance system as a way for thousands of families who are not part of the traditional labor gear to have some peace.

“We don’t know when the next crisis is going to happen. We have three months left to fight for the governor to include it in the next budget. We call on all New York legislators to join this request. Many turn their backs when it comes to thinking about benefits for the working class,” claimed the Colombian-American legislator.

After being behind bars

The program would cover people who are re-entering the workforce, after having been behind bars for a year or more.

In New York state, there have been an average of 21,000 people a year released from state prisons over the past three years, according to a report from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

This unemployment protection scheme creates a separate chapter for this population that finds it impossible to rejoin working life once they are released.
The merchant Alicia González, spokesperson for the Street Vendors Project, also called on the state authorities not to ignore this proposal in the budget forecast for this fiscal year. This immigrant, she has several reasons to fight in the coming months for this possibility.

“When it is winter, thousands of sellers see a terrible drop in sales and great problems to cover their minimum expenses. But I also think about the survival of thousands of people who were released from prison, because they made a mistake in the past and it is practically impossible for them to join society. Nobody gives them a chance.”

For Alicia, this would be a step not only for labor justice, but legislation to bury centuries of discrimination against those who for some reason have not regularized their immigration status, have never entered the formal labor system, or simply paid a prison sentence.

“I know perfectly well from a very dear family member that once you leave a prison you enter a terrible process where it is practically impossible to get back on track. Be treated with dignity. Everyone deserves a chance,” she stated.

Research published by the Brookings Institution suggests that 45 percent of people released from prison have zero income for the first year after release.

The pandemic experience

There is some background to this request. During the wave of unemployment and business failures during the Covid-19 pandemic, New York came closer than at any time in its history to having an unemployment insurance system that served the entire population.

As you will remember, the federal government in the midst of the emergency expanded unemployment insurance to cover certain self-employed workers. For its part, the New York governor launched the Excluded Workers Fund, a $2.1 billion program that provided unemployment compensation to people who were left behind even after the federal expansion. In particular, immigrants without work authorization.

Both expansions are considered a great help to families during a difficult period, but also a way to stabilize the economy in times of crisis.
As budget negotiations begin this week, various organizations and New York legislators are proposing that the state build on precisely these “lessons learned” during that dire crisis.

Before President Franklin Roosevelt signed unemployment insurance into law in 1935, states like Wisconsin led the way, creating state programs that would serve as the basis for national law.
Such is the case in Colorado where a UI program for permanently excluded workers was approved in 2022. Now, New York has the opportunity to follow this story, updating the UI system to reflect modern economic realities.

UI saved NY

In 2020, when the pandemic brought record unemployment, New York’s UI system became a lifeline for nearly five million New Yorkers.
The Department of Labor distributed more than $105 billion, the equivalent of 50 years of benefits, in the two years since the start of the public health crisis.
These benefits helped keep New Yorkers afloat during this unprecedented time.

In detail: Who would the Unemployment Bridge include?

  • 470,000 immigrants without work authorization: Many of these workers, approximately 50 percent, have jobs in which the employer pays an unemployment insurance fund, but workers without papers are excluded from receiving the benefit.
  • 180,000 self-employed: This includes street vendors, writers and photographers, taxi drivers who are actually self-employed and don’t work for an app platform, freelance salon workers, and many of the other freelancers in New York.
  • 80,000 domestic workers, landscapers and construction workers in very small teams.
  • 20,000 people re-entering the workforce after being incarcerated or in immigration detention.

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