Excluded Workers Fund Provides Pandemic Relief for Undocumented Immigrants

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By Jessica Easthope

For the last year and a half, Sharon Pemberton says she’s had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“I used to wake up at night saying ‘I’m going to get evicted if I don’t pay my rent’, I get so nervous,” she said with tears in her eyes.

As an undocumented immigrant from the Caribbean, when the pandemic hit and Sharon lost her jobs as a housekeeper and babysitter, she wasn’t eligible for any state or federal aid. She was left with nowhere to turn.

“I can’t just, when I stop working, get unemployment like a lot of people did,” she said. “I wasn’t getting anything, for me to get money in my hand I need to work.”

As of August 2020, 98 percent of unemployed undocumented workers had not received any pandemic aid. But earlier this month, Sharon said she got the miracle she’d been praying for: the Excluded Workers Fund – a $2.1 billion statewide relief package. Now undocumented workers are entitled to up to nearly $16,000.

“They have a million problems, trying to pay their rent, trying to feed their children, wondering where their next dollar is coming from and trying to eat so this means everything to so many people that are essential to our country,” said Diane Cantave, an organizer with Long Island Jobs for Justice.

The first-of-its-kind relief is based on a point system that offers two tiers of payment. Workers will need to prove they lived in New York State before the pandemic started and that they lost work during the health crisis.

“Everybody benefits form this fund, not just the excluded workers,” Diane said. “But people who are not undocumented workers do too, from the boost in the economy from the money they receive.”

The Excluded Workers Fund is showing Sharon there are people fighting for her and willing to help lift that weight off her shoulders.

Undocumented workers who lost a job during the pandemic can apply for the Excluded Workers Fund at ewf.labor.ny.gov