TRENTON – While it’s not directly funded in the spending plan, the new state budget in a roundabout way provides the money Gov. Phil Murphy was seeking to make $500 pandemic recovery payments to unauthorized immigrants.

Immigrants not legally in the country were blocked from federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021. Late last year, the state started taking applications for financial aid to those residents. The new program will run differently, providing smaller checks to more people.

“I’m proud… that we were able to ringfence some money,” Murphy told reporters Tuesday. “Where that goes from here, I don’t have any news to make.”

The budget's fine print

Language added to the budget allows Murphy to allocate $300 million from the state’s share of federal COVID recovery funds without needing the Legislature’s agreement through a vote of the Joint Budget Oversight Committee, or JBOC.

Those allocations can’t be larger than $20 million without JBOC approval – except for one $60 million allocation. That happens to be large enough to cover the $53 million fund Murphy proposed in March to pay $500 each to over 100,000 immigrants with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN.

“This is a positive development and highlights that the state has the power to do right by its residents,” said Laura Bustamante, policy and campaigns manager at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “But much more must be done to ensure the community who does not have ITIN receive the recovery resources they deserve.”

Call to expand safety net

“We need more than one-time fixes,” said Banessa Quiroga of Make the Road New Jersey. “We must permanently expand the safety net to ensure individuals excluded from aid - including undocumented immigrants, workers in the cash economy, the homeless and citizens returning from a period of incarceration -- all are able to access aid.”

The one-time payments would go to people excluded from federal stimulus funds whose income is less than double the federal poverty level.

The poverty level varies based on family size. Two hundred percent of the poverty level this year is $33,975 for a single-person household, $36,620 for a two-person household, $46,060 for a three-person household and an additional $9,440 per person for each additional family member.

'Slush fund'

Republican lawmakers from the 10th Legislative District called the $300 million that Murphy can direct a slush fund and criticized Democratic lawmakers for quietly, indirectly funding it through the budget.

“The Democrats who control the Legislature know that Gov. Murphy’s program giving big cash payments to illegal immigrants is so unpopular with most New Jerseyans that they were afraid to fund it directly in the state budget,” said Sen. Jim Holzapfel, R-Ocean. “Instead, they created a slush fund that Gov. Murphy controls that appears to have been designed specifically to continue making these ridiculous payments.”

The recently concluded 2022 fiscal year budget required any allocations of federal COVID recovery exceeding $10 million to get JBOC approval. The Murphy administration sidestepped that limitation by making multiple $10 million transfers in April to the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, the program that made $2,000 to $4,000 payments to qualifying households of unauthorized immigrants.

Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean, said the $60 million, one-time allocation is “no coincidence.”

“It’s another example of Democrats abusing taxpayer money, failing to be transparent, and refusing to use the oversight powers of the Legislature to hold the Murphy administration accountable,” McGuckin said.

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“Instead of holding the governor accountable, they rewarded his bad behavior with an even bigger slush fund in this year’s budget to continue the unpopular program,” said Assemblyman John Catalano, R-Ocean. “This is the exact opposite of how good government is supposed to operate.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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