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State lawmakers debate new aid program for undocumented workers

Some upstate lawmakers disagree with the new $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Some details are emerging about New York's first ever Excluded Workers Fund, which the state provides for in the newly approved budget at a cost of $2.1 billion. 

The Associated Press estimates 300,000 people in the state will be eligible. They are expected to be largely undocumented workers who lost wages with the coronavirus pandemic, and they cannot collect traditional state unemployment or federal stimulus payments because of their immigration status. 

They would collect payments up to $15,600, which is comparable to the surplus extra $300 over 52 weeks for regular unemployment claimants. 

Others could get $3,200, comparable to the three rounds of federal stimulus payments for U.S. residents if they can't prove work status, but can prove they have been living in the state.

The AP reports this would be the largest such program in the United States. The state of California, for example, provided $500 to such undocumented workers.

Some downstate lawmakers and advocates claim that undocumented workers actually do pay state and local taxes, despite their immigration status. 

There is some notable feedback from a local lawmaker who voted "no" on this program, with concerns about distribution of those funds through the NYS Department of Labor.

Channel 2's Kelly Dudzik and others have previously reported that the state agency has had past problems getting regular unemployment pay out to people here in Western New York.

Democratic Assembly member Monica Wallace, who represents Cheektowaga and Lancaster, says: "I don't think that there are sufficient safeguards. I don't think there's sufficient accountability. And I think that it's not fair to, at least the way the program is going to be rolled out, to my understanding, it's not fair to the people who I've been hearing from for an entire year, who are waiting for unemployment benefits, who have been certifying every single week."

There are requirements, including pay stub certification or proof of residence, and an income ceiling of $26,800. But the Governor's Office has, in fact, asked the Attorney General to come up with a way to police the program with concerns about fraud.

Democratic State Senator Sean Ryan of Buffalo says he voted "yes" on the program because it was tied in with more state refugee funding for this area.

"I looked at it as, the refugee part was something that all New Yorkers were paying for, and that helps Buffalo," he said.

But then another local Democrat Assembly member, William Conrad, says: "I did not support the Excluded Worker Fund, as well, which is about $2 billion. I voted no."

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