New York Must Act Now to Support Excluded Workers

Workers and families left without support for months  

Read the full report: Unemployment Compensation for Excluded Workers: Helping New Yorkers, Boosting the Local Economy

(Albany, NY) State unemployment benefits were expanded in significant ways for most New Yorkers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. However, tens of thousands of New York workers and their families were left adrift without federal or state assistance. The Fiscal Policy Institute’s new report shows that our state can act to create and fund a system to support these workers. 

The fund would help undocumented workers, who make up five percent of the state’s labor force, as well as 40,000 people who are estimated to be unemployed this year after having been released from incarceration. This fund would be a gamechanger. Statewide, if an average of 15 percent of undocumented immigrants get the benefits, that will bring the combined total to 120,000 people who benefit from the program and cost $3.1 billion. But that is not all as the benefits go beyond each individual.

Unemployment compensation provides a necessary boost not only for workers and their families, but ripples out through their neighborhoods, and the economy statewide! When workers and their families can pay rent, buy groceries, and cover other necessities in their local communities, that creates a significant combined economic impact. FPI estimates $2 billion to New York City (with a breakout for each borough), $380 million to Long Island, $450 million to the Hudson Valley, and $260 million to Northern and Western New York.

The fund would match the minimum level of relief under the current unemployment system, $750 per week, allowing people to support their families through a difficult period. The fund would be paid for by requiring billionaires to pay taxes on the annual income from stocks, bonds, and related holdings. The tax is expected to raise $5.5 billion in the first year, and to continue raising money each year that follows.

The Fiscal Policy Institute believes that equitable tax system reform benefits not only struggling workers but our entire state. Federal aid and state unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for unemployed New Yorkers during the pandemic. Now we must act to protect our neighbors who were without the means to support themselves by COVID-19.


“This is no time to let New Yorkers be divided by a toxic political climate. Immigrants and people leaving incarceration, as well as all New Yorkers, are important to our social and economic fabric. Asking ultra-wealthy New Yorkers to do their part to help create a seamless safety net is just common sense,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, Deputy Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute and Director of FPI’s Immigration Research Initiative.

“The power of reforming our state tax policy is enormous. Reforming our state’s upside-down tax system through equitable tax initiatives, including the Billionaires Mark-to-Market tax, we can support hard-working New Yorkers. In its first year, the mark-to-market tax is projected to generate substantial new revenue well above the funding required for the excluded workers relief fund. This will make additional funds available for programs, on which many New Yorkers rely,” said Jonas Shaende, Chief Economist, Fiscal Policy Institute.

“Over recent weeks, excluded workers and allies have fasted, marched, and demanded to know how we can leave hundreds of thousands of families with zero income for another day. Undocumented workers, many recently released from incarceration, and many families who have lost a breadwinner to COVID-19 are in their fifth month of growing desperation – blocked from claiming a single penny from the Unemployment system that their taxes have helped build. Now the Fiscal Policy Institute makes clear we know HOW to provide this relief: the billionaire wealth tax pending in Albany would bring in double the revenue necessary to provide emergency survival income to excluded workers. There is no excuse for Governor Cuomo and the legislature to let this horror continue,” said Deborah Axt, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road NY.

“This pandemic is a crisis for immigrant communities – both because we have experienced high rates of illness and death, and because many of us are excluded from unemployment and other essential safety nets putting us in economic distress,” said Alejandra Garcia, a member of the NY Nail Salon Workers Association from Staten Island who went on hunger strike on July 16th. “Billionaires profit from our labor and should provide for our needs. Governor Cuomo needs to tax the billionaires and create a fund to provide unemployment pay to workers who have been excluded from relief. We are the backbone of our state’s economy and should not be left behind.” 

“New York’s billionaires are growing richer by the second — while tens of thousands of unemployed New Yorkers are unable to access federal unemployment aid. Yet Governor Cuomo believes it is more important to protect billionaires than to protect working New Yorkers, including our immigrant families. We know a billionaires’ tax to fund excluded workers can help keep thousands out of poverty, boost the local economy, and raise additional revenue to support critical social services across the state. It’s time for Governor Cuomo to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers so everyone in our state can thrive,” said Charles Khan, Organizing Director of Strong Economy for All.

Read the full report: Unemployment Compensation for Excluded Workers: Helping New Yorkers, Boosting the Local Economy

For estimates of excluded worker beneficiaries by race, click here.

The Fiscal Policy Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization committed to improving public policies and private practices to better the economic and social conditions of all.