Some 300,000 undocumented New Yorkers are now eligible for help under the historic Excluded Workers Fund established in the state budget. But there are still some more hurdles to get the cash. Here’s a breakdown.
You may have heard about the New Yorkers who went on hunger strike for more than 20 days to push state leaders to create a relief fund for undocumented workers.
Well, they won.
This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in Albany reached an agreement on a historic deal that will offer much-needed aid to nearly 300,000 New Yorkers who have been cut out of government unemployment benefits and stimulus checks during the pandemic.
The $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund will provide relief similar to unemployment benefit payments to undocumented immigrants and other workers with nontraditional jobs that kept them from receiving government help for the past year.
This is by far the largest program of its kind in the country and has the potential to be a lifeline to some of the New Yorkers hit hardest by COVID. (At one point, experts estimated that more than half of the city’s immigrants were unemployed.)
There are still some more barriers, though, before the cash can get to the workers who need it.
Here’s what you need to know about the fund and how to access it.
Who is eligible?
To get payments from the Excluded Workers Fund:
- You must be a current resident of New York and have lived here before March 27, 2020. (More on the documents you’ll need further down.)
- You must have lost part or all of your income after February 2020 because of COVID-19. That includes losing your job, losing hours or becoming unable to work because of the virus. You’re also eligible if the person who was the breadwinner for your family died or became disabled due to COVID.
- You must not have been eligible for other unemployment benefits or any federal COVID-related income relief.
- You must have personally earned less than $26,208 total in the past year.
Note: You can qualify for both the Excluded Workers Fund and the state’s newly created rent relief program.
How much money can you get?
There are two tiers to the program that pay out different amounts.
If you can:
- Prove your New York residency and
- Show you filed your taxes for the 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax year or prove lost income caused by the pandemic
You will be able to receive up to $15,600 (minus $780 for taxes). That comes to nearly $300 a week for the last year.
If you don’t have tax returns and paperwork showing loss of income, you might still be eligible for up to $3,200 (minus $160 removed for taxes).
Note: How these benefits will be paid out is still being determined.
Here’s the documents you need to qualify
WARNING: There’s a point system involved and it could get complicated. So stick with us…
Step 1: You need to prove your identity.
To do so, you’ll need documents that will add up to four “points.”
If you have:
If you don’t, we’ll have to do a little math. You can use several other documents that will add up to four points. So, if you have any of these, match them up with the corresponding points until you get to four.
- A non-expired foreign passport
- A photo ID card issued by the New York Office of Mental Health
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decree
- Birth certificate from a foreign country
- Non-expired NYC Parks and Recreation membership card
- Foreign-issued ID card, such as a consulate ID card
- A diploma or transcript from a high school or college
The state Department of Labor, which will run the program and come up with the application form, could also add more documents to broaden the pool. The agency will also assign points to these additional documents, but none will be worth as much as four points.
Step 2: You need to prove you currently live in New York and were living here before March 27, 2020. You can use a non-expired New York driver’s license, ID card or IDNYC card to show that.
If you don’t have these documents, there are other ways to prove you’re a New Yorker.
Here’s what you’ll need: Two of the following documents — one dated before March 27, 2020, and another dated no earlier than 30 days before the law goes into effect (which could be very soon).
- A utility bill
- A bank or credit card statement
- A lease, mortgage statement or property tax statement
- A letter addressed to the applicant from the New York City Housing Authority
- A letter from a homeless shelter indicating that the applicant currently lives there
- A letter from a nonprofit organization that provides homeless services
- Any other document the DOL commissioner deems acceptable.
Good news is you can submit the same documents to establish your identity and residency, but at least one of them has to have your date of birth and a photo. Any document that isn’t in English should also be accompanied by a certified English translation.
But wait…there’s more. What else do you need to qualify?
To establish work-related eligibility and to qualify for up to $15,600, applicants have to submit proof they filed tax returns for either the 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax years using a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
If you don’t have your tax returns, you can establish eligibility with these documents:
- A letter from an employer stating the dates of employment and why you’re no longer employed
- At least six weeks of pay stubs or wage statements from a six-month period prior to the date you certify you became eligible for these benefits
- A W-2 or 1099 from the 2019 or 2020 tax year showing wages or income
- A Wage Theft Prevention Act notice given by the employer at the time of hiring showing the applicant was employed in the six months before becoming eligible for the benefits
As with the other criteria, the commissioner of the Department of Labor may establish “alternative documents” that show workers were employed and qualify for the benefits.
What if you don’t have any of those?
If you can’t demonstrate proof of work-related eligibility, hope isn’t lost. You still might qualify for aid through Tier Two, which distributes up to $3,200. You’ll still need to prove your identity and New York residency, but the other requirements for the second tier are still being determined.
The commissioner of labor will have to come up with a point system for documents — such as pay stubs, wage statements, wage notices, bank statements or receipts showing a pattern of payments or deposits — to determine work-related eligibility.
When can you get the money?
That’s still being decided.
The state Department of Labor has to come up with a process for distributing the funds — and state Attorney General Letitia James will have to approve that process before money goes out the door due to a measure tucked into the law to prevent “fraud and abuse.”
That means it could be months before a system is in place to distribute the money. But that leaves applicants time to gather the paperwork they need and to visit consulates to get up-to-date documents.
We’ll let you know when we know more.
Can Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) get your documents?
The law specifically states that any person or entity who receives or has access to the records has to certify that the information will not be used for civil immigration purposes. They also must not disclose the information to any agency that enforces immigration law, like ICE or Customs and Border Protection. Violation of that is a class A misdemeanor.
What else we’re reading
- The Intercept reported on some gaps in the Excluded Workers Fund.
- Gothamist reported on the latest changes working parents need to know about school opening and closing plans.
- The 19th reported on women returning to the workforce as schools reopen.
- Pix11 reported on New York City opening up applications for the Summer Youth Employment program.
- The Daily News reported that the city is going to hire 10,000 people over the next few months to help clean up and beautify public spaces.
If you have specific questions about working or unemployment in the city during the pandemic or something else you think we should cover, let us know by emailing email@example.com.
For more jobs, work and unemployment resources, here’s what New Yorkers who attended THE CITY’s Open Newsroom shared. If you see something you believe we should include, tell us.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.