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New York lawmakers weigh $500 million fund for unemployed migrants

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(The Center Square) — New York lawmakers are considering a Democratic proposal that would create a new multibillion-dollar fund to provide unemployment benefits for undocumented immigrants.

The proposal, which is currently before the Senate Finance Committee, would create a $500 million trust fund to pay jobless benefits for workers ineligible for traditional unemployment payments and other public benefits.

To pay for it, backers of the plan have proposed a new tax on Google, Amazon and other ‘big tech’ companies that would charge them a fee for digital advertising, which supporters say would drum up hundreds of millions of dollars for the fund.

The so-called Unemployment Bridge Program proposal is being championed by state Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Senate’s powerful Labor Committee. She argues that migrants are authorized to work, pay taxes and contribute to the state’s economy but can’t get unemployment benefits if they are let go by their employer.

“The federal government has let unemployment insurance for freelancers expire. The Excluded Workers Fund has long since run out,” Ramos posted on social media. “We need a safety net that reflects the reality of our labor market.”

A summary of the bill said the fund would be available to undocumented workers but also “domestic workers, landscaping and groundskeeping workers, day laborers and domestic construction workers who are paid off the hooks; street vendors, freelancers, self-employed workers: and workers recently released from incarceration or immigrant detention who cannot use their prison or detention labor to qualify for unemployment benefits.”

“The new fund establishes in-depth requirements and procedures making it possible for members of these communities to apply and receive benefits for their ongoing unemployment,” the summary reads.

New York policymakers have wrangled for years over jobless benefits for undocumented immigrants, nontraditional workers and others who don’t qualify for state unemployment benefits.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, New York lawmakers approved a $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund to provide support for jobless workers who were excluded from unemployment benefits, including undocumented adults and those with “gig” economy jobs. But money from that fund has dried up, lawmakers say.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $233 billion fiscal year 2025 budget calls for committing $2.4 billion to help tens of thousands of asylum seekers, including $500 million from the state’s reserves, or ‘rainy day’ fund.

Roughly $1.1 billion will be earmarked for New York City to house migrants and provide legal assistance to apply for asylum and secure employment. But the Democrat’s spending plan doesn’t include funding for unemployment benefits for migrants or the creation of a new fund to help jobless workers who don’t qualify for traditional benefits.

Republicans have criticized plans to offer unemployment benefits to people living in the U.S. illegally and argue that the funds should only be available to New York taxpayers.

“People who live in New York City who are legal American citizens and legal residents of New York, who pay some of the most exorbitant taxes in the country — maybe even in the world if you live in the city of New York — they should be the priority,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said in a recent statement.