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Dozens of New Yorkers and politicians gathered outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office Sunday for an Easter “service” to demand he approve a $3.5 billion fund for “excluded workers” not reached by benefits during the pandemic.
In a flower-adorned spectacle that included communion to mark the holiday, the protesters called on Cuomo to support workers who labored during the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic but are unable to claim economic aid — including undocumented immigrants.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, Andrew Cuomo made some decisions,” New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told the crowd at the event, organized by immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York. “He said that black and brown people, primarily, had to go to work. They were essential, they’re important. They had to go to work. They had no choice.
“This is New York State. There should not be anything called an ‘excluded worker,’ ” continued Williams. “No one should be excluded in New York State.”
The issue has formed a schism between progressives in the state legislature and their more moderate Democrat counterparts, who fear that setting aside billions of dollars for undocumented immigrants would provide ready fodder for Republican opponents during the next election cycle.
The fund — which would provide 187,000 immigrants and 87,000 recently incarcerated people with an average of $12,600 each — also has the ire of state Republicans, who say it’s an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.
Even if the two Democratic factions reach an agreement with state budget talks now in overtime, Cuomo also opposes the measure as currently proposed, a source has told The Post.
On Sunday, Williams accused Cuomo of leaning on his “privilege” to get through the pandemic.
“We all understand that this governor probably doesn’t understand sacrifice,” he told the applauding crowd. “Because he uses privilege to get … his friends a test when other people couldn’t get it. He used his privilege to have state workers help him write a book on a pandemic on leadership while he was lying about people dying in nursing homes.”
Spokespeople have denied that Cuomo inappropriately prioritized those close to him for COVID-19 tests, and said that staffers only helped out with his book on a volunteer basis.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond Sunday to a request for comment on the Excluded Workers Fund.
Williams noted that some of the workers in attendance at the rally are on a weeks-long hunger strike to raise awareness for their plight.
Cuomo “is telling the folks who are literally on a hunger strike they don’t deserve assistance, on Easter Sunday,” he said.
On the holiday, Williams struck a biblical tone.
“I know that he [Jesus Christ] despised the state oppression that came down on the people who needed help the most,” he said. “So I know that if he was in earthly form again, this is probably where he’d be.”
State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), a proponent of the fund, urged attendees to give his fellow lawmakers an earful in the days ahead.
“We have to raise our voices so the [Assembly] speaker and the [state Senate] majority leader and the governor hear our cry, that $2.1 billion barely scratches the surface of the need,” said Epstein, referring to the figure currently being discussed in the state legislature. “We need more like $3.5 billion, because people are hungry. People are suffering. And we have the ability to fix it.
“We need to stand strong to say, ‘We hear you, we see you, we love you, we stand with you and we’ll fight with you to ensure there’s money,’” continued Epstein. “Even though it’s not a lot, it’s money, because we recognize you’ve been excluded from unemployment, excluded from healthcare, excluded from rent support.”
Epstein encouraged attendees to call their state representatives and say of the “excluded” workers, “We will not leave them behind.”
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