Excluded Workers Fund Doesn’t Require Prior Approval From Comptroller’s Office, DiNapoli Says

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NEW YORK NOW – Undocumented New Yorkers are one step closer to accessing a new $2.1 billion fund approved in this year’s state budget to provide benefits for individuals who couldn’t access unemployment or federal benefits during the pandemic.

Advocates for the Excluded Workers Fund rally in Albany this week. Credit: New York NOW

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said this week that, despite some confusion, his office will not have to sign off on that money before it’s disbursed to eligible applicants.

In an interview aired on PBS’ New York NOW, DiNapoli said legislation creating the so-called Excluded Workers Fund was written in a way to give his office the option to review it before it’s disbursed. But they don’t have to, and are not planning to, DiNapoli said.

“I don’t see the wording that brought us in, in any way, interfering with the legislative intent in terms of really the Department of Labor taking the lead on putting the regulations out there and getting the money into the hands of those who are eligible,” DiNapoli said.

The new law allows DiNapoli’s office to review regulations promulgated by the state Department of Labor to control the fund, but doesn’t require it.

That’s because of one word: “may.” The new law says DiNapoli’s office “may, in his or her sole discretion, review, such regulations and any other rules” related to the fund. That means his office has the option to offer input on the fund, but doesn’t have to.

“We’re looking at that to see what that really means and whether we would have any valuable input to provide in terms of reviewing the regulations,” DiNapoli said.

“But at first blush there’s no requirement for our office to formally sign off or certify the parameters of how this money is going to be distributed.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this week, said in a press conference after the law was passed, that both DiNapoli and State Attorney General Letitia James would have to sign off before any money flows from the fund. That would be to prevent fraud, he said.

“On this program, we’ll ask the comptroller to review it before it is administered,” Cuomo said. “In this case, we’re asking the comptroller to look at the program first to make sure the way it is designed, there are fraud protections.”

The new fund is designed to offer relief to undocumented immigrants who, during the pandemic, didn’t have access to unemployment and other benefits, like federal stimulus checks.

Depending on whether an applicant can prove their residency and provide other financial documents, they could be eligible for payments of either $15,600 or $3,200, minus taxes. The higher amount is for those who can prove lost income or show they’ve filed taxes.

New York Attorney General Letitia James already said this week that she’ll review regulations related to the fund before it becomes active. Unlike in DiNapoli’s case, the new law mandates James to conduct such a review, using the word “shall.”

“We believe the Office of the Attorney General’s role will be to ensure the integrity of the process by verifying whether the regulations and the process being established are constitutional,” James said. “These duties are in line with our traditional role, and we look forward to performing them.”

There’s no hard deadline for when the new fund will be disbursed, and state regulations will determine how that happens.