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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Denied COVID economic relief, N.Y.-based immigrant and excluded workers plan hunger strike

These workers are starving for some relief.

A coalition of immigrants and supporters will take part in a hunger strike this week as they push Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders to approve a COVID relief fund for undocumented workers and others shut out of federal aid over the past year.

Dozens will participate as advocates call for a $3.5 billion fund that would provide retroactive, direct cash assistance to workers who haven’t been able to access unemployment benefits, stimulus checks or other government assistance.

“I decided to do the hunger strike because they need to recognize the excluded workers,” said Ana Ramirez, a 42-year-old restaurant worker from Brooklyn. “Right now, many people like me, we are facing not having a place to live, no way to put food on the table.”

More than 75 people have signed on to take part in the fast, including at least 40 directly impacted workers. Those taking part in the strike will start at the Church of the Ascension for the first few days before moving to Judson Memorial Church near Washington Square Park.

Hundreds of thousands of workers like Ramirez have been excluded from federal and state aid during the pandemic, including the undocumented and people recently released from prison.

Gov. Cuomo did not include an excluded workers fund in his executive budget proposal unveiled in January, while the Assembly and Senate budgets include $2.1 billion in funding for excluded workers. Advocates say that falls far short of the requested $3.5 billion that would ensure weekly payments on par with the unemployment benefits other workers have received.

Bianca Guerrero, a campaign coordinator with Make the Road New York who has helped organize a coalition of dozens of advocacy groups that support the measure, called the one-house resolutions a “good start.”

“But it’s not enough,” she said. “I think it’s a really good sign that lawmakers are paying attention. They’re clearly hearing the voices of the folks who are demanding relief and we’ve made it very clear that this would be a first of its kind in the nation if it passed.”

The majority, 54%, of New York City residents working in essential jobs during the pandemic are immigrants, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Over a quarter of food and drug store, 22% of social service jobs and 36% of cleaning service workers don’t have citizenship, the City Comptroller’s office recently reported.

The high number of undocumented workers either relying on essential jobs combined with those who are out of work but ineligible for federal COVID benefits makes the measure essential itself, said sponsor Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa (D-Manhattan).

“This fund was created out of the perpetual suffering and the need that we’ve seen in our communities historically, but especially during COVID-19, we’ve seen that these workers were fully excluded from all services,” De La Rosa said. “I feel proud that it’s included in both of the one-house budgets. This gives it a fighting chance going into negotiations.”