NY hunger strike to raise awareness for workers denied COVID-19 relief

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NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Workers who have been left out of federal and state pandemic relief launched a hunger strike Tuesday to demand $3.5 billion in funding for excluded workers in the New York State budget as the deadline approaches.

At a press conference in front of St. John the Divine, workers joined with faith and community leaders to announce their participation in the "Fast for the Forgotten," named in honor of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been left behind throughout the pandemic with no access to unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, and other federal and state economic relief programs.

They include undocumented New Yorkers and those recently released from incarceration.

Organizers say it's the final escalation in a months-long campaign to win funding for these excluded workers and comes just over a week after hundreds of workers led a march across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in support of a so-called "excluded workers fund."

"We think there should be equality, right?" said Nadia Marin-Molina with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "That workers should be able to receive as much as a comparable worker."

Though the Senate and Assembly one-house budgets include $2.1 billion in funding for excluded workers, it is far less than the $3.5 billion that workers have demanded, a figure that would ensure weekly payments on par with the unemployment benefits other workers have received.

Marin-Molina said $3.5 billion is needed, even if that means taxing the wealthy.



More than 75 people are expected to join over the course of the fast, including dozens of excluded workers.

They care calling for retroactive, direct cash assistance to workers who haven't been able to access unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, or other government assistance.

Jenni Manzanares, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras who lives in Hempstead, lost her job painting and cleaning houses at the beginning of the pandemic.

She said it's not fair that undocumented workers are not being supported.

"It is necessary for our families to have this help. Many people are homeless, without food, the only help they've received is the help they give from the churches," Manzanares said in Spanish.

Manzanares said a lot of undocumented workers also need the money to send back to their families in their home countries who they support by working in the U.S.

An August 2020 Make the Road New York survey showed that 98% of unemployed undocumented workers had not received federal or state government economic assistance.

The federal stimulus package signed last week, like previous stimulus bills, continues to largely tie unemployment insurance and other benefits to immigration status.

Organizers say that without action at the state level, working people across New York will continue to be shut out from relief.

As of now, the New York State Excluded Worker Fund Act would allow undocumented workers to obtain $3,300 every month from April 2021 through December 2021.

It would also allow them to get payments retroactively from when they lost their job due to the pandemic.

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