In her budget presentation last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $2 billion fund for the legislature to determine how it is spent.
“Whether that is help for struggling small landlords and their tenants, or the hardest hurt industries and workers, or for other purposes,” the governor said during the speech.
There are many priorities, but insiders say lawmakers are focusing on two big ones created because of the pandemic: replenishing the Emergency Rental Assistance Fund or ERAP, and reconstituting the Excluded Workers Fund.
Both were considered highly successful, but both also quickly ran out of money.
“In my opinion, the highest priority is for tenants and homeowners not being evicted from their homes,” said state Senator Robert Jackson. “Once that happens, family structures tend to breakdown. We want to make sure people are staying in their apartments and staying in their homes.”
The ERAP program made nearly $3 billion available for tenants to pay back rent. Those who may have fallen behind during the pandemic.
The Excluded Workers Fund, worth roughly $2 billion, made money available to workers who missed out on federal pandemic aid. That includes undocumented workers, day laborers and others who rely on the cash economy.
“We have a large contingency of our delegation in the Assembly that believes we need to put more money into the Excluded Workers Fund,” explained Bronx Assembly Member Karines Reyes, adding, “but more broadly, who believe in a permanent solution to really shore up the safety net for those who have been excluded.”
For some, it’s not an either/or. It can be split evenly, or money could be taken from the other areas. Hochul, for example, wants to set aside $15 billion in reserves as part of a “rainy day fund.”
“I hate that we are always put in these positions where we are pitted against one good cause against the other,” said state Senator Cordell Cleare. “I think we can do both. And I think the state needs to find the money and we need to make sure we do getting from the federal government. Both are important.”
As the legislature continues to comb through Hochul’s $216 billion budget, key decisions about what to spend and where will need to be made soon. The budget is due at the end of next month.
“So to have to reopen that program, I think people are fighting for a little bit more than Excluded Workers Fund, however, the city has been built on immigrants,” Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte said. “And there are a number of people who are not immigrants who are excluded from getting unemployment insurance benefits. So I just think it’s a 50-50 thing.”
Then state has asked the federal government to replenish the rental assistance fund, but there is just no guarantee that will happen. So some are suggesting money allocating for other causes can be re-routed and put toward that.