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Immigration advocates seeks to expand New York’s Excluded Workers Fund

Ellen Abbott

Immigrant advocates want the state to expand unemployment benefits to individuals who now don’t qualify for it as there’s a statewide push for what’s called the Unemployment Bridge Program.

This new proposal would make unemployment available to a wider set of workers, including freelancers and those in the cash economy. Jessica Maxwell of the Workers Center of Central New York said New York is not the first to consider the idea.

'There are several states, who I think coming out of the pandemic realized we can do better," Maxwell said. "We saw we could do better. We saw the workers were being excluded and it just seemed like common sense. Now's the time. We know what we need to do and in New York state we are in a position to do it this year.”

Advocates are asking the state to include $500 million in this year’s budget to make the Unemployment Bridge Program permanent. They estimate 750,000 workers across the state would be eligible for the unemployment benefits.

Maxwell said these include workers who are self-employed, in the cash economy, those without work authorization and individuals released from incarceration or immigrant detention. Maxwell said right now there is nowhere for them to go if they lose a job. She also calls it a labor protection issue.

“People often are afraid to speak out and lose their job because they have nothing the next day," Maxwell said. "Nothing. There’s nothing they can apply for. There’s no benefit coming. They have no safety net. So, we talk all the time at the Worker's Center to workers who stay in bad conditions because they don’t want to lose their job."

This program would run parallel to the state’s unemployment insurance program and the excluded workers fund. Maxwell said it reflects a new economy where there are more people working in freelance or cash economy fields.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.