New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will restore the money his office diverted from the $40-million fund it created last year to help immigrants and other workers excluded from COVID-related aid.
Last week, WNYC/Gothamist reported $34 million from the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund was re-allocated to other state expenses, such as payroll. Immigrant advocates were outraged but state officials said not enough people applied before the federal CARES Act money — signed into law by former President Donald Trump — had to be used by last year’s federal deadline. Only about $6 million had been distributed.
On WNYC’s Ask Governor Murphy live show Thursday, Murphy said he was working to replace the diverted funds by using money from another federal COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan, which gives states more flexibility to distribute dollars. Murphy made it official a few hours later, announcing that the fund would distribute $40 million as initially promised.
“By continuing to fund the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund and simplifying the application process, we are making sure more families who are eligible for this program receive much-awaited assistance,” he said in a statement.
Murphy said new federal rules waive certain document requirements, making it easier for states to use American Rescue Plan dollars. It’s not clear how the new rules and funding will change the application process. Immigrants and their advocates complained the process was difficult and required documentation for things they couldn’t prove.
“Because it’s more flexible, we’ll be able to get the money out more easily and more folks will qualify,” Murphy said on WNYC Thursday.
He said more than 7,000 applications that are still pending or were rejected will also be reviewed again to see if they meet the new program criteria. The deadline for the program will also be extended past January 31st through the end of February.
The Department of Human Services, which is overseeing the program, announced last month that the fund would be supplemented by another $10 million from American Rescue Plan dollars.
Murphy has limited discretion in how he can use American Rescue Plan money, but under an agreement with the Legislature, he can spend up to $10 million. Anything over that needs approval from the Joint Budget Oversight Committee.
The Excluded New Jerseyans Fund opened last October after more than 18 months of protests and rallies by immigrant advocates.