Response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recession spurred a wave of policy innovation around the country. The pandemic revealed weak spots in our social safety net, and governments scrambled to fix them—at least temporarily. Although federal efforts typically tried to carve out undocumented immigrants, many states and localities around the country made a particular effort to include immigrants and others who were excluded. New York’s Excluded Worker Fund (EWF) was by far the largest of these efforts. The New York fund was a $2.1 billion program that allowed 130,000 immigrants without work authorization, as well as some others who fell between the gaps of federal aid, to get unemployment compensation if they lost work during the pandemic recession. The amount of aid to the vast majority of workers, $15,600, was nearly as much as the annual amount other New Yorkers who lost work were getting in unemployment insurance.
To investigate the impact that this fund, Immigration Research Initiative and the Urban Institute undertook a year-long study that included both a survey with over 400 participants and in-depth interviews with applicants to the fund.
The survey found that:
- Rent and food were the top two uses of the fund, showing that it helped people meet basic needs.
- The fund opened up new possibilities for earnings, such as investing in a business or taking job training. It was both a bridge over a tough period and a springboard to a better future.
- It aided family well-being: people were able to get delayed medical care, or visit out-of-town family and friends, or even have a long-needed night out for dinner.
- And, we saw the fund leading to a wide range of positive outcomes in community and civic engagement: participating in advocacy, volunteering for church groups, or getting a driver’s license, for example.
And, the in-depth interviews gave details and individual stories about the difference the fund made. As one recipient of the fund told us:“It was like an oasis in the desert…In my 50 years of life, this is the first time I have ever received something like this from the country.”
To view the reports:
Expanding Inclusion in the Social Safety Net: Impacts of New York’s Excluded Workers Fund
6-page summary in:
“Finally We’re Being Recognized”: An Up-Close and Personal View of the Excluded Workers Fund
6-page summary in: