On Monday afternoon, The Capitol Pressroom reached out to a dozen upstate and suburban Senate Democrats to get their positions on a $2 billion state investment in pandemic benefits for New Yorkers – mostly undocumented immigrants – who were shut out of federal relief efforts.
The dozen moderate members could control the fate of the measure in the chamber if they voted as a block. Ten didn’t respond, one Long Island Democrat’s spokesman offered a “no comment,” and Sen. Pete Harckham called me back.
“I think it’s very necessary,” the Westchester County Democrat said.
Harckham said that “excluded workers” contribute to the economy, often doing work deemed essential during the pandemic, and that he had seen firsthand the devastation wrought by being denied federal aid, such as stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment benefits.
He predicted that any investment New York makes now in excluded workers will be invested back into their community.
Harckham said he would accept the stricter eligibility standards purportedly being advanced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, rejecting the idea that they would be a major deterrent to apply for relief.
“They’re working on the details,” he said of the eligibility issues. “I believe we’ll get it done.”
It was his understanding that the latest proposal revolved around a two-tiered payout structure, with more benefits available to New Yorkers who produced the most documentation, such as records detailing lost work.
Since joining the state Senate in 2019, Harckham has leaned into difficult policy decisions, such as marijuana legalization and enabling undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses. He came out in favor of adult-use marijuana more than a year before legalization and actively campaigned for the Green Light Law.
On Saturday, the New York Post reported that at least 13 members of the Senate Democratic majority had reservations about the proposal. A Senate Democratic spokesman stressed on Monday afternoon that the conference was “supportive” of an excluded workers fund.
On the Assembly side of the equation, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted Monday evening that his majority will have the votes to pass a relief fund. The pronouncement came three days after 30 of his members had a secret meeting to discuss their concerns about the proposal.
The fund remains one of a handful of major open issues in the budget, which is going to be at least six days late.