TRENTON – Advocacy groups say the restoration of $24 million to the fund available to provide pandemic relief to unauthorized immigrants in New Jersey is insufficient – in dollars, time and publicity.

The activists continue to call for nearly $1 billion to be available to people shut out from stimulus checks and unemployment benefits before they’re not legal residents. But short of that, they say the state must also commit to promoting the Excluded Workers Fund and hiring more people to process applications.

Carlos Castaneda, an activist with Movimiento Cosecha, said better communication is needed between the state and communities it hopes to help with the fund. He said a press release announcing that the process is being simplified isn’t enough.

“If they don’t put money where their mouth is, meaning promote and inform the community and work shoulder-to-shoulder with us, that information that they come out with is just going to stay on the desks of many bureaucrats in Trenton in the Department of Human Services,” Castaneda said.

Applications for the $2,000 in financial help have required documentation to be provided that shows a person suffered a pandemic-related hit to their income, such as being out with COVID or falling behind on rent. That mandate is being dropped under new federal rules, according to the state.

That doecumentation is difficult for some domestic workers and laborers to obtain from their bosses or landlords, said Haydi Torres, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha.

“They’re undocumented, and they might not have a job or a contract, right?” Torres said. “And many employers are refusing to sign those letters because they might not pay people with checks, you know what I mean? They do it cash, or they just don’t want to do it because they’re afraid they have to report it on their taxes.”

New York provided $2.1 billion in state funds to roughly 300,000 unauthorized immigrants. The New Jersey fund at this point includes $40 million in federal funds and has more than 2,000 applications pending, said Jorge Torres of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

He said the state Office of New Americans should hire more evaluators and further extend the application deadline, which was moved from Jan. 31 to Feb. 28, in order to better fix the flailing program.

“It’s not us. They should be able to do it,” Torres said of the state. “We did it in New York. It was accessible. It was good. The fund ran out in less than two months.”

The state hired community groups to guide people through the application process, but those groups said the state didn’t provide them enough support.

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Adam McGovern, a legislative strategist with Wind of the Spirit, said a few people were successfully steered through the process but that the program was a mess, needing “more time, an easier process and really something that’s set up to succeed.”

“It just left great proportions of people unserved in a way that’s completely counter to the intent of the fund and kind of embarrassing in contrast to what’s been accomplished right next door in New York,” McGovern said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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