Proposed excluded workers fund creates schism among Assembly Dems

By Published On: April 2nd, 2021Categories: Capitol Notes

A group of  about 30 Assembly Democrats are so concerned with the $2 billion excluded workers fund being kicked around in budget negotiations that they met in secret on Friday before the full conference with their colleagues, according to multiple members at the remote meeting. 

The hastily assembled meeting, which included upstate, suburban and New York City Democrats, was called in response to reservations with the proposed funding level and administration plan for the initiative aimed at providing pandemic relief to New Yorkers ineligible for federal aid, such as undocumented residents.

The Friday meeting was called after members were left unsatisfied with a smaller gathering the day before where Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tried to address concerns about the program.

“This is basically just writing a check to people,” said one upstate member, who said their fundamental issue was a lack of accountability with the retroactive program.

“The feeling is that we have existing programs set up to provide a safety net to people,” the member added. “If we need to expand eligibility to cover an unserved population, let’s do that. But let’s not create a new government spending program…It’s bad public policy. We’re stewards of the public’s money.”

The excluded workers fund, as originally crafted, is designed to be a simple and efficient means of delivering funds. On Thursday, the New York Immigration Coalition, which wants a $3.5 billion excluded workers fund, issued a press release stressing the need for “flexible application requirements.”

Assembly Democrats at the meeting also felt that other specific issues, like rent relief, needed to be addressed first with the federal windfall the state is receiving. “If this goes through, I can’t look landlords in my district in the face,” one member said.

Friday’s gathering is notable because of its size – 30 of the 107 Assembly Democrats is basically large enough to stop a bill from going through – and the diverse regional makeup of the group, which included members in safe Democratic seats.

It was not immediately clear on Friday whether Heastie was aware that the meeting had occurred. A spokesman for the speaker did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the meeting.

One member who attended the meeting anticipated that the speaker had likely learned of the gathering, noting that the media had found out. “Nothing is secret,” they said.

UPDATE: After this piece was published, Make the Road New York co-Executive Director Deborah Axt stressed that activists are asking for “economic relief that is on par with what other workers around New York have had access to for at least a year.”

It was her understanding that the fund being negotiated now is far less generous, consisting of one-time payments covering two years of need. “These are for folks who have had access to no other income replacement relief,” Axt said.

Axt recently appeared on The Capitol Pressroom to discuss the issue, which is available below.