Nearly half the 35,000 residents who applied for New Jersey’s excluded worker fund still haven’t received any help — but have until the end of the month to prove they were shut out of other pandemic aid and therefore qualify for a $2,000 check.
The Department of Human Services told Gothamist $41 million has been distributed to 18,000 workers, with another 17,000 applications still pending. The fund is meant to aid individuals such as undocumented immigrants or formerly incarcerated people who didn’t qualify for other COVID-19 relief programs or unemployment benefits.
People with pending applications have until Sept. 30 to submit required documents and prove they are eligible, officials said. While advocate groups said they were working with applicants to help them upload the right paperwork, they urged the state to step up its outreach efforts or move back the deadline.
“The state promised us that every eligible applicant will receive their relief check, so it must ensure everyone is aware of the new deadline and has the opportunity to obtain an appointment and ask questions with adequate language access support,” Laura Bustamante and Rosanna Aran from the Excluded NJ Coalition said in a statement to Gothamist. “New Jersey needs an immediate ramp-up to the program's operations or must extend the deadline.”
The Excluded New Jerseyans Fund was rolled out almost a year ago in October after months of protests, rallies, and a three-week hunger strike by immigrant advocacy groups. They argued undocumented immigrants who got sick during the pandemic and lost work or loved ones were struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent.
But the fund was slow to take off; only a fraction of the aid was distributed in the first few months as workers complained the application process was onerous and required documentation that was nearly impossible to acquire.
The Murphy administration said demand for the program wasn’t there and redirected most of the money to pad the state budget. That prompted an uproar from immigrant groups until Murphy agreed to restore the fund using federal American Rescue Plan dollars and ease the application process. The state stopped accepting applications in February and Murphy said his administration would allocate additional dollars to the fund for anyone who applied by the deadline and is ultimately approved.
Though thousands have been able to claim the one-time benefit, many families who applied more than seven months ago are still waiting for aid — and advocates worry the September cutoff date could leave too many without promised relief.
“More than 35,000 households applied to the Excluded New Jerseyan Fund, just a fraction of the many thousands more who were forced to survive for two years without pandemic relief. Now, a Sept. 30 deadline is looming and New Jersey faces the same risk — that limited public awareness will contribute to missed opportunities to upload documents for active applications who are eligible and deserving of relief,” the Excluded NJ Coalition said in its statement.
Eva Loayza-McBride, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said every application had been reviewed and more than 100 state and contracted nonprofit workers were working with the 17,000 applicants to meet the deadline. She said pending applicants had been notified of their missing documents multiple times through texts, phone calls, and emails. Applicants need to prove they live in the state, are 18 years or older, earned $55,000 or less a year, and were shut out of unemployment benefits and federal COVID checks.
Loayza-McBride said 415 applicants were found ineligible, and 2,000 applicants haven’t responded to multiple requests for information or withdrew their applications. Those who applied and have not heard from the program should update their contact information through this online form, she said. Applicants can also request an online appointment to review any needed documentation here or call 609-588-2001 for help.
“There is still a lot of confusion and unease about where the documents go,” Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said. “There were a lot of hiccups, starts, and stops with how the fund was carried out but no one can discount that any amount of relief that workers received can be transformative.”
Immigrant advocates have repeatedly argued the program was never adequately funded and initially called for a $1 billion fund for immigrants and their families. A state budget proposal to allocate $53 million for immigrants who use individual taxpayer identification numbers to pay taxes — a common practice among immigrants without Social Security numbers — was ultimately cut from the budget.
A similar fund was created in New York, where lawmakers allocated $2.1 billion for undocumented workers, offering as much as $15,600 per person. That fund was nearly depleted within two months.
“I hope that as this iteration of the fund is facing a deadline, that it’s allowing us to have conversations about these still unmet needs of excluded workers,” Torres said. “At this point we’re past relief and into a place where we have structurally disadvantaged people who gave their all on their front lines of the pandemic.”