Protesters call for excluded-worker benefits

By Damali Ramirez

“Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!” the protesters chanted outside the office of State Sen. Monica Martinez in Patchogue, in Suffolk County, on Oct. 6.

The demonstrators held paper plates on sticks with Martinez’s photograph in the middle, yelling, “Sen. Martinez, do you support a #RecoveryForAll?” Others signs said “free them all” and “Sen. Martinez #MakeBillionaires Pay to #FundExcludedWorkers.”

Make The Road New York, one of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in New York State, held a rally on the sidewalk outside Martinez’s office, demanding that she support legislation to fund excluded workers and cancel rent.

Excluded workers are immigrants, undocumented workers and recently incarcerated people who have been released from prison; they do not receive unemployment benefits and federal stimulus payments. Other organizations such as Sepa Mujer, Long Island Civic Engagement Table and the Long Island Progressive Coalition attended the rally to support canceling rent, suspending school suspensions and taxing billionaires to fund benefits for excluded workers.

“As our communities continue to suffer, Governor Cuomo refuses to tax billionaires and fund excluded workers,” lead organizer Eliana Fernandez said. “Cuomo has a duty to all New Yorkers, not just the billionaires.”

Congress and President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, on March 27. The measure allotted $300 billion to make $1,200 payments to individuals earning less $99,000 and families earning less than $198,000; $260 billion to increase unemployment benefits; $500 billion in aid for large corporations; $339.8 billion for state and local governments; and $669 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses.

Immigrant workers, however, were excluded from unemployment and federal stimulus payments. People recently released from pirson or immigrant detention centers with no hope of getting a job were also barred from receiving federal benefits. And small businesses or self-employed individuals who lacked documentation to apply for the Payment Protection Program did not receive unemployment benefits, according to Make the Road NY.

Undocumented immigrants and non-citizens who legally immigrated to the United States pay taxes through Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Although both groups do not qualify for a Social Security number, ITIN allows about 4.6 million taxpayers to file their taxes annually, and receive tax benefits to which they are legally entitled. But to receive a CARES Act payment, an individual had to have a Social Security number.

On Long Island, neighborhoods such as Brentwood, Central Islip and Hempstead had the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the region. All three neighborhoods are home to large Black and Brown immigrant communities. Nine of 10 Black and Brown immigrants reported either job or income loss in their households, according to a survey conducted by Make the Road NY.

Maria Gomez, a member of Make the Road NY, has lived in Brentwood for 14 years. Her husband lost his job at the start of the pandemic, and he suffered three heart attacks because of the financial stress. Gomez and her family depend on the church and Make the Road NY to survive financially. She has two sons; one is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipient, and the other, a U.S. citizen.

“They are also excluded workers, and at an early age, they have understood that this country they call home has excluded them because they belong to a mixed-status family,” she said.

Ayami Garris, a Brentwood High School senior, spoke about her recent suspension from school. Her teachers did not provide her missing work until the day before her suspension ended. She said she felt left behind from her peers, but thought her privacy was violated when a teacher told her classmates why she was suspended.

“During this time, we need compassion and understanding, not punishment and threat,” she said. “We need elected officials that are going to do right by our community and protect us from the harm of Covid and the harm of racism.”

Toward the end of the rally, Martinez’s communications director, Adina Beedenbender, stepped outside the senator’s office to ask the group what the rally was advocating for and offered to schedule an appointment with Martinez.

“We have tried many times to make an appointment; she continues to ignore us,” Fernandez told Beedenbender. “We have tried phone calls, tried visiting her in Albany in her office, and she won’t meet with us. This is the reason why we’re here today; she continues to let her immigrant community down.”

“We have seen that Senator Martinez knows we’re here,” lead organizer Kendra Cornejo said. “She knows the needs of our communities because her staff is telling her. This is what it means to do direct action.”

Senate Bill S8277B, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat from the Elmhurst section of Queens, would establish a special tax on New York residents with $1 billion or more in assets. It would also direct revenue from the tax into a worker bailout fund and establish a worker bailout program, providing workers excluded from wage protection programs access to unemployment benefits.

As of press time, the bill had 19 senators and 43 Assembly members advocating for the legislation.

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