TRENTON – An over $5 billion increase in expected state revenues, on top of more than $6 billion in federal pandemic recovery funds already in the bank, has flipped the script on the fiscal tightrope that normally typifies the state budget deadline.

Case in point: Even before the revenue update was formally released, immigration advocacy groups were already citing the windfall as proof the state could afford their push for about $1 billion in stimulus checks and unemployment pay for people normally ineligible for aid because they’re not legal residents.

Katy Sastre, campaign strategist for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said the extra projected revenue is great news for New Jersey.

“This should translate into great news for immigrants and other excluded New Jerseyans who have been waiting and fighting for relief for 15 months,” Sastre said.

“This is really the time and the perfect opportunity and circumstances to ensure that all excluded New Jerseyans receive that same level of pandemic relief that many others have already received,” she said.

Sara Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey, said advocates seek around $989 million to provide one-time $2,000 stimulus checks and recurring $600 weekly unemployment benefits to people who have gone 15 months without a penny of COVID relief funding.

“This is just a fraction of the unexpected revenue that the state is receiving. A fraction of the revenue that the state will receive from the new federal stimulus dollars,” Cullinane said.

“While the state of emergency may be ending, we know that communities that have been left behind from aid are continuing to be in a state of emergency,” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed $40 million in a fund for residents excluded from the earlier rounds of federal COVID aid and unemployment benefits. Advocates see that a small first step that’s inadequate to meet the need.

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Helen Zamora-Bustos, an organizer for Wind of the Spirit, said activists are always being told by state officials that there’s no money available for their cause.

“Well, we have it now. We know where it can come from, and it’s our responsibility – the humane thing to do is to provide to the needs of those that were left out,” Zamora-Bustos said.

“If this isn’t done, unfortunately we’ll have to look inside ourselves and realize that we don’t have a governor that cares for everyone, just for a selected few,” she said. “And I don’t – I hope that that’s not the truth of it.”

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

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