NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 23: A general view of workers and community allies who are entering the second week of a hunger strike for additional funding in the state budget for workers who have been excluded from federal and state aid for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic at Judson Memorial Church on March 23, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
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New York has set aside a massive, first-of-its-kind fund for undocumented workers

This week, New York lawmakers announced they'd reached an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on a massive state budget designed, in part, to help lift the Empire State out of the coronavirus-induced nadir of the past year. The $212 billion spending deal — which passed both the state Senate 38-25 and assembly 88-61 on Wednesday — is a nearly 10% increase from last year's budget, thanks to an influx of onetime COVID-related federal funds.

Nestled among the typical expenditures you might expect to find in a massive budget of this sort is a unique fund — reportedly the largest of its kind in the country — focused on helping alleviate a measure of pandemic hardship for one of the state's most vulnerable populations who were excluded from previous federal relief efforts. Undocumented workers are now eligible for a one-time direct payment of up to $15,600 from a more than $2 billion budget line put aside for immigrants who lost work and wages over the past year.

"To deny excluded workers benefits after we relied on them to get us through this historically difficult year would be immoral and unjust," Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris told The New York Times. The increased state budget will be financed, in part, by a corporate tax increase, as well as a tax hike for the uppermost earners in the state.

That increase, however, was not enough for some state lawmakers, including Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who told ABC7 that "we acquiesced to a governor who said that we could not afford to ask the wealthiest among us to pay more so the least among us could suffer less."

Fund Excluded Workers, an advocacy group coalition that pushed for additional relief money, had initially sought nearly $1.5 billion more for eligible undocumented workers, but nevertheless celebrated the new budget, calling it a "victory" and "history."

According to the New York Daily News, approximately 1 in 5 of the state's 1.8 million "essential" workers are undocumented — 200,000 people in New York City alone.

"We're survivors of the virus, and we are only here because other people helped us out," one undocumented worker told the Times upon news of the budget's passage. "For me and for all the others, it’s a pretty big victory," he added.