Advocates and state lawmakers on Thursday called for a permanent extension of a fund that provided relief for workers who did not qualify for federal unemployment and pandemic aid.

A permanent extension would provide aid to about 50,000 workers a month in New York, many of them undocumented immigrants.

The fund itself was initially approved earlier, this as a $2.1 billion pot of money following an at-times heated debate among Democratic lawmakers. The fund is being pushed as the COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, is also entering another stage of uncertainty with the fast-spreading omicron variant.

New York's unemployment picture has improved slightly since the early weeks of the pandemic, now nearly two years ago. But the statewide jobless rate, 6.6% in November as reported Thursday, remains higher than the rest of the country overall.

“The Excluded Workers Fund has helped New Yorkers across the state get back on their feet after the hardest year we’ve ever been through. But it’s outrageous that we even needed this fund to begin with,” said Bianca Guerrero, a coordinator with the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition. “When times get hard, workers should be able to get access to the safety net support they need to make it through - no matter their immigration status or the kind of work they do. That’s why, in the coming budget cycle, we’re calling on Governor Hochul and state lawmakers to permanently repair the holes in our safety net to make unemployment insurance accessible to those who need it most.”

Supporters of a permanent excluded workers fund, meanwhile, sought to highlight the classifications of workers who would benefit beyond undocumented people, including those who are paid in cash like domestic workers and day laborers, and self-employed people like street vendors and house painters.

As part of the proposal, the fund would cover workers earning under a specified limit at either 80% or 100% of the state's median individual earnings. Qualifying workers would receive a flat payment that matches New York's unemployment insurance rate, currently set at $1,200 a month.

The estimated cost of the fund is $800 million in the first year.

“Just nine weeks after the Excluded Workers Fund opened applications this year, all the funding had been allocated. That should tell us how badly New Yorkers needed this program and how essential it was to the workers who keep this city running. We shouldn't have to scramble to set another fund up the next time our state faces a crisis,” said state Sen. Jessica Ramos. “That’s why, in addition to the $3 billion we need to ensure a just recovery, in 2022 we will be fighting for Excluded No More - a permanent fix to our unemployment system that will finally grant coverage to low-wage undocumented workers, cash workers, and street vendors. Esenciales por siempre. Excluidos nunca más.”