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CNY advocates call for support for workers excluded from past unemployment aid

They held a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Workers' Center on East Genesee St.
Scott Willis
They held a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Workers' Center on East Genesee St.

Thousands of essential workers in Central New York and across the state who lost wages or jobs due to the pandemic are calling on Governor Hochul to allocate money for an excluded workers fund.

“We have better hopes for Hochul, but in her executive budget, she put in a zero for excluded workers.”

That’s Jessica Maxwell with the Workers’ Center of Central New York. Excluded workers typically don’t have documentation that entitles them to social security benefits or other unemployment assistance if they lose their jobs. Organizer Victor Hernandez says that means there’s no safety net.

"During the pandemic, we saw that some of the people who work the most, who work the hardest, who are the most exposed, were people who often did not have their documents. And many of them lost their jobs during the pandemic. These are people who are picking the food that we eat, cleaning up homes and in businesses. And also people who provide essential services for the elderly, and in all sorts of health care positions."

New York State did allocate $2.1 billion for an excluded workers fund last year. But Jessica Maxwell says the money was gone in nine weeks.

“We have dozens of people apply, the last days application was open, and they have been denied funds, not because they don’t qualify, but simply because the fund rolled out. And that’s why we’re asking for $3 billion more in this year’s budget.”

Workers and their allies from Buffalo to Long Island say the state’s budget multi-billion dollar surplus makes it the right time to make the investment. A group of farmworkers from Wayne County joined the Syracuse gathering, and spoke through an interpreter.

"We’ve been working through the snowstorm, through the ice storm, through the frigid temperatures. We have children, we have expenses, and there’s so many people who apply it who weren’t able to receive it. So many people in my community whose children are suffering because of that, so many people that have worked and continue to work, and I’ve considered essential that haven’t received the same benefits."

The advocacy groups hope to convince state legislators to not only replenish the excluded workers fund, but also create a permanent unemployment fund accessible to low-wage workers regardless of immigration status. They have until the end of March to make their case.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at