The fund was created last fall, after months and months of pressure from New Jersey immigrants unable to access federal relief due to their immigration status. That included a number of excluded workers who launched a hunger strike urging Gov. Phil Murphy and state leaders to look next door to New York, which established a $2.1 billion fund for excluded workers there.
But Murphy agreed to just $40 million, established with leftover stimulus funds. Under the guidelines, applicants could be eligible for a one-time payment of up to $2,000. “But from the beginning, residents struggled to meet the application’s requirements,” WNYC/Gothamist continued, with advocates saying the state simply didn’t conduct enough outreach, and that the system was very difficult for monolingual speakers to access.
“New York and Washington state and many other states have been able to give out billions in assistance to very similar populations in just one or two months, in the same timeframe,” Make the Road New Jersey executive director Sara Cullinane said in the report. WNYC/Gothamist previously reported that New York’s fund was tapped out after distributing funds to over 130,000 applicants. Immigrants and advocates have also been urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to replenish the funding as the omicron variant has resulted in a massive caseload across the country.
“It’s not like the need has magically evaporated in New Jersey,” Cullinane continued. “We know from our conversations with community members, hundreds of thousands of people are still left behind, are still struggling.” While the New Jersey Department of Human Services said it will reallocate $10 million in other funds to continue applications through the rest of the month, advocates say that amount still leaves many behind. The state is home to nearly half a million undocumented residents.
Make the Road New Jersey tweeted that Señora Felix was among the essential workers who participated in the hunger strike last year to win relief. But despite applying three months ago, she’s heard nothing about her application. “She had hoped to pay her electric bill and increase broadband so her son could use internet for school, but she continues to wait to hear on her application to #ExcludedNJ,” the organization wrote. “With the news that the fund is closing without spending most funds, she worries she will be excluded again.”
The nearly two dozen groups are urging Murphy to appropriate $989 million in relief and fund a more robust outreach, citing program successes in states including California and New York. “The need in New Jersey is no less than in these other states, and it grows by the day,” groups said. “We urge you to act swiftly to ensure every household can access the relief they so desperately need.”