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Community Groups Ask New Yorkers to Pledge Fed Stimulus Checks to Vulnerable

huttered storefronts in Jackson Heights during the coronavirus epidemic.
Shuttered storefronts in Jackson Heights during the coronavirus epidemic, March 31, 2020.
Photo: Christine Chung/The CITY

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For nearly two decades, Goma has worked in Manhattan painting nails. She’s commuted to Midtown from her home in Elmhurst, Queens, where she lives with her husband, an Uber driver.

Now, both their jobs are casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, causing them to dig into their steadily evaporating savings.

Goma, who did not want her last name published, gets paid in cash, so she hasn’t been able to collect unemployment. She isn’t eligible for the federal stimulus checks millions of Americans are set to receive soon.

It’s a gap the 55-year-old Nepali immigrant says she feels intensely.

“I think the government should recognize that we all provide the same value of work and especially right now the illness is impacting everybody,” she said in Nepali through an interpreter.

“This is not a time to give to some and not give to others. It is a time when everyone needs to get equal support.”

Various grassroots groups across the city are now asking New Yorkers who can to donate their stimulus checks to people who are ineligible but in greater need. That includes many immigrants and others who don’t have the necessary documentation to qualify.

“This is another way that folks can be stepping in and supporting our fellow New Yorkers who have been excluded,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the Street Vendor Project.

Left Out of the Package

Under the $2 trillion federal stimulus package Congress passed late last Month, anyone with a Social Security number who made under $75,000 last year will get a one-time $1,200 payment, with smaller amounts for incomes up to $99,000.

Families also receive $500 for each dependent child under 17.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the first payments would automatically reach Americans via direct deposit around April 17. People who filed taxes in 2018 or 2019 do not need to take any action. The IRS has set up an online portal for others to submit their information.

But millions of people, including those who don’t have bank accounts, are undocumented or are claimed as a dependent by someone else, will not be receiving this financial aid. There were roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in 2018, according to research by New American Economy.

Immigrants who pay state and federal taxes but lack Social Security cards are being left out on local, state and federal levels, said Anu Joshi, vice president of policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the groups backing the donation campaign.

At least 112,000 New York City residents use Individual Tax ID Numbers, instead of a Social Security number, to file, the Daily News reported.

“Immigrants, especially the undocumented, are really on the frontlines of this pandemic and putting themselves at risk in order to ensure that we all stay fed and healthy and safe,” Joshi said.

“They are just so deliberately being left out of the federal relief package, which could really mean the difference between staying in your home or being kicked out on the street, being able to feed your family for the whole month,” she added. “These are not luxury items that we are talking about.”

Community groups — including Make The Road New York, the Street Vendor Project, UnLocal and the NY Nail Salon Workers Association — have established pledge campaigns, where people can donate any amount of their stimulus payments.

“Raising funds to help those most impacted is an important but temporary response to the economic crisis workers are facing,” said Luis Gomez, organizing director for the NY Nail Salon Workers Association.

And while his and other groups advocate for an accessible government stimulus package, Gomez said the redistribution pledge represents a “significant act of solidarity with workers who are hurting most right now.”

Worried About Debt

Francisca, a 50-year-old street vendor from Mexico who usually sells churros and ice cream in East Harlem, hasn’t been able to work for the past month.

She said she is anxious about being able to make next month’s rent. She and her 19-year-old daughter, a college student, are subsisting off of items received from a food bank. They’re saving a stash of beans and rice, eating only a little at a time.

“I’m worried I will end up in debt when the crisis is over,” she said in Spanish. “I feel bad because the government doesn’t support us like it supports other people, it seems like we are never taken into account. It’s not fair.”

Stimulus check donations from other New Yorkers would help pay the bills and buy groceries — “the most necessary things right now,” she said.

Berenice Aguilar, 27, a nail salon worker from Mexico who lives on Staten Island with six currently unemployed people, said that she’d use any financial assistance to pay for food. She does not qualify for the stimulus money due to her immigration status.

“We don’t know how long we are going to last without working in the household,” Aguilar said in Spanish. “It makes me feel really badly because we are all human beings.”

“Even though we don’t have the same nationality, we have rights as workers here.”

With interpretation by Emily Rosenzeig of the Street Vendor Project, Leanne Tory-Murphy of Workers United, and Prarthana Gurung of Adhikaar.

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