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Economists say passage of Excluded Workers Fund was 'positive policy'

People gathered in Hauppauge in March for an

People gathered in Hauppauge in March for an interfaith solidarity vigil to urge lawmakers to include in the state budget a fund for excluded workers who struggled financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Barry Sloan

Several economists on Monday applauded the State Legislature's recent passage of the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund aimed at helping largely undocumented workers, saying it's a "positive policy" that will not only help families who have been unemployed for the past year but will pump millions into local economies across the state.

Small business owners, including real estate broker Nelson Hernandez, owner of Legacy Homes Realty in Uniondale, lauded the fund's potential. He said he had to lay off most of his 10 to 15 employees when potential home sales dried up during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

"About 80% of those properties fell through … The deals didn't go through because the buyers couldn't get a mortgage because a lot of them lost their jobs," Hernandez said. "It hit us very tremendously. It impacted our business."

The fund, which could benefit about 35,000 people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, presents an opportunity to "help families," said Hernandez, an immigrant himself from El Salvador who has been a citizen for about 30 years. Even many undocumented workers, he and the economists said, pay taxes, and they help the economy.

"This fund wouldn't just be a boost for workers who have gone an entire year, this entire pandemic year, without relief. It would also benefit our state's economy as a whole," Jessica Maxwell, executive director of the Workers Center of Central New York in Syracuse, said during the virtual news conference Monday featuring the economists and small business owners.

Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, based in Washington, D.C., said workers definitely would "spend the money" and pump dollars into local economies.

"These are people that, again by definition, they were excluded from getting other benefits during this downturn, so many of them need the money to pay their bills, to buy groceries" and pay their rent, Baker said. "So, these are things going very directly to the local economy."

Lawmakers said the fund was earmarked for undocumented workers, among others, who lost their jobs during the pandemic but did not qualify for federal aid or unemployment benefits.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, said an estimated 290,000 workers statewide could benefit from the fund. He said it was estimated that 90,000 people statewide would qualify for the top payment of $15,600, while another 200,000 would qualify for the lower $3,200 payment.

On Long Island, the analysis by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, estimated 18,000 workers could benefit in Nassau County and 17,000 in Suffolk County, with a potential $251 million boost to the Island's economy.

Kallick said the top amount some undocumented workers could qualify for was less than the $34,000 the average unemployed workers in New York got if they were unemployed over all of the past year.

Kallick added that many undocumented workers pay taxes, such as sales taxes, and their rent to landlords helps the landlords pay their property taxes. Some undocumented workers who own homes also pay property taxes, he said.

Juliana Santos, owner of Oak Pizzeria Napoletana in upstate Hudson, said the pandemic produced two crises for her business: "the instability and the unknown of our longevity … of our business. At the same time, we had the crisis of the health and well-being of our employees."

Santos, a naturalized American citizen originally from Brazil, underscored what she called the "humanitarian perspective of this fund of including all workers, independently of their socio-economic or immigrant status … So I don't think we as a community, as a country, should let anyone fall through the cracks."

Diana Urban, a former assistant professor of economics at the University of Connecticut who noted she grew up on Long Island, highlighted the essential work many undocumented workers do, such as farmworkers and those who work the "backstretch" at Belmont, Aqueduct, or Saratoga racetracks.

"They're essential to the horse economy, the equestrian economy, to the farming economy," Urban said. "So in my mind, this is sound economic policy" that would provide "long-term" benefits in "lifting families up by giving them funds they can check right back into the economy."

What to know

  • Undocumented workers who qualify for the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund could get $15,600, or $3,200.
  • An estimated 18,000 undocumented workers in Nassau and 17,000 in Suffolk would qualify.
  • The fund will bring an estimated $251 million to Long Island's economy.

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