More than 170 clergy and faith leaders in New York signed onto a letter to be widely released Tuesday calling for additional aid to workers not covered by unemployment benefits and federal pandemic relief.
Advocates are calling for replenishment of what's known as the excluded worker fund after lawmakers declined to back further money for the program in their state budget proposals this month. Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature are expected to reach a budget deal by next week.
"These excluded, essential workers have done their part to make New York a decent place to live," the clergy wrote in the letter. "Our congregations have done our part with charitable support to ease their suffering caused by lost income during the pandemic. We cannot do much more to help them."
The fund is meant to help workers who do not qualify for federal assistance, including pandemic relief. Many of these workers are undocumented New Yorkers.
Last year, lawmakers and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a $2 billion fund meant to provide aid to those workers. This year, some lawmakers and advocates want to see that money made permanent in the state budget.
Hochul's budget proposal in February included an unallocated pot of $2 billion but left it up to lawmakers as to how the money should be used amid calls for additional funding to help tenants and landlords who continue to struggle from the financial aftershocks of the pandemic.
Advocates for excluded workers, meanwhile, have stepped up an advocacy campaign around New York designed to call attention to the issue. They have protested outside the offices of state lawmakers and held demonstrations on bridges to push for the funding.
Many of the clergy signing on to Tuesday's letter come from Long Island, a key suburban foothold for both parties this election season and considered a potential swing region.
"The Excluded Workers Fund was a morally proper and economically sound public policy decision in 2021 and remains so in 2022," they wrote in the letter.