New York considers bill paying illegal immigrants and felons up to $27,000 in CARES Act back pay

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New York lawmakers are considering a proposal that would provide some illegal immigrants and convicted felons with over $27,000 in CARES Act money that they were initially excluded from.

Excluded Worker Fund Act recipients would be eligible for $600 a week in unemployment benefits for each week of unemployment between March 27, 2020, and July 31, 2020, matching the federal CARES Act increase in unemployment assistance, and $300 for every week of unemployment between Aug. 1, 2020, and Sept. 6, 2021. A worker who became unemployed by March 27, 2020, would be immediately eligible for a $20,700 check, with the possibility of $6,000 in additional benefits by fall 2021.

The legislature’s plans allow potential recipients to self-report their eligibility for assistance if they do not have access to documentation proving their pre-pandemic income. The proposal would expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to prisoners released after October 2019. New Yorkers are required to show two quarters of their work history in the previous year before they are eligible, meaning that former convicts who were released in the quarters preceding the pandemic lockdowns wouldn’t have the necessary work history to qualify for ordinary unemployment assistance.

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supportive of a requirement for potential recipients to provide individual taxpayer identification numbers, advocates argue that the provision will create a hurdle and exclude illegal immigrants who would be harmed by the provision.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, a sponsor of the bill, accused Cuomo of “trying to narrow access and eligibility for this program, just like we’ve seen them water down other very needed programs like the rent relief program, and so we’re pushing to expand those parameters to truly include those who have been hardest hit.” The IRS has been flooded with requests during the pandemic, and obtaining an ITIN can take 8 to 10 weeks, time Ramos argues that the neediest can’t afford to wait.

Some illegal immigrants who are supportive of the bill are participating in a hunger strike to call attention to what they see as an essential program.

“If this group that is coming together to go on strike gets to win on their demands, that means they’d have made a difference, not just for themselves but for thousands if not millions of people — and I want to be a part of that,” Veronica Leal, who lives in the United States illegally, said of her decision to participate in the strike.

The proposal would be funded by a tax increase. The top income tax rate would be raised to 9.85% for single filers who earn more than $1 million and couples who make more than $2 million each year, and a 1% income tax on capital gains may be levied. The proposed increase comes as New York businesses, particularly in the financial services industry, consider moving out of the state.

Goldman Sachs moved part of its operations to Florida, while Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Barclays, and other Wall Street staples have established or increased their presence in the Sunshine State, North Carolina, Utah, Texas, and Tennessee.

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