As excluded workers and allies in New Jersey are now more than a week into a hunger strike calling for the urgent need for novel coronavirus pandemic relief, Politico reports that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is considering roughly $40 million in funds for families excluded from survival checks due to their immigration status. That sounds like an impressive sum—but only at first.
Advocates note that because workers have been excluded from all rounds of relief in 2020 and 2021 as they’ve paid into the system through their tax dollars, $40 million won’t be enough to keep their heads above water, and pales in comparison to the $2.1 billion fund in nearby New York. “Your proposal amounts to $96/person left behind from aid for a whole YEAR,” advocacy group Make the Road New Jersey tweeted to the governor.
“Representatives from Murphy’s office suggested the figure during a conference call with immigration advocates on Tuesday,” the report said. “Sources said the 30-minute call grew ‘pretty heated’ over the amount, which advocates said was not enough to provide real help to the state's nearly half-million undocumented immigrants.”
“But administrative sources pointed out that the amount offered is similar to what’s in a bill that has failed to move in the Legislature,” the report continued. But that bill was introduced in the legislature nearly a year ago at the start of the pandemic, and bills and other expenses have piled up for families since then, adding to advocates’ argument for a larger fund.
“$96 isn't enough to buy weekly groceries for a family of 4 let alone get caught up on rent & utilities,” tweeted advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action. “New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank, points out that undocumented workers represent an even larger share of the workforce in New Jersey than in New York, and that they're concentrated in the frontline workforce,” CBS News reported. A number of excluded workers and allies in New Jersey launched their fasts and hunger strikes to call attention to this ongoing lack of relief.
“I didn’t have the choice to stay home if I felt at risk or nervous about my health,” essential worker Karina Silvotti wrote for NJ.com. “Because of my immigration status, I’m ineligible for unemployment and the stimulus payments. It’s frustrating to be left behind from a system I’ve contributed to every week since I started working at the grocery store five years ago.” Excluded workers and allies in New York won their fund earlier this month, after lawmakers reached an agreement as part of the state’s $212 billion budget. Hunger strikers there, like Ana Ramirez and Felipe Idrovo, ended their nearly three-week-long fasts soon after.
“There have been 23 days without food,” Ramirez, a New York Communities for Change member, told amNY. “Twenty-three days when I was hungry and in pain. But it hasn’t just been 23 days. It’s actually been decades of pain, the pain of indifference and negligence. Today, our work today has been recognized. Our dignity has been recognized, and our dignity has been lifted by passing this fund.” Idrovo risk his own life to win relief after tragically losing both his father and brother to COVID-19.
“This fight is not just for us who are here, but for everyone who has been supporting us,” he told amNY. “This country is known for democracy for liberties, but the way we get them is by fighting in the streets and demanding what’s ours. We will continue to fight for many more years to come.”
The ongoing hunger strike in New Jersey notably falls on April 15, a day advocates have used for several years now to lift up the tax contributions of immigrants regardless of legal status. According to the American Immigration Council, “[u]ndocumented immigrants in New Jersey paid an estimated $1.1 billion in federal taxes and $604.3 million in state and local taxes in 2018. New Jersey DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals paid an estimated $57.2 million in state and local taxes in 2018.”