Flooded by federal stimulus money, New York State passed a lavish $212 billion budget last week, representing a nearly 10 percent increase in spending over the previous year. The budget handsomely rewards loyal constituencies, raising state education funding, for example, by 12 percent—money that will ultimately find its way into the pockets of the state’s teachers, whose powerful unions flexed their muscle during the debate about re-opening schools.
The most outlandish budget item, however, which has surprised even longtime liberal Democrats, was the creation of a $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund to provide retroactive benefits to illegal aliens not eligible to receive federal CARES Act money or unemployment insurance. Qualified applicants will get checks totaling $15,600; unqualified applicants, unable to demonstrate that they actually lost a job due to the shutdown orders, will get $3,200. The language of the legislation leaves it up to the state commissioner of labor to “promulgate regulations to effectuate this section.”
Federal law has long blocked illegal immigrants from receiving unemployment insurance. Working “off the books” for cash or committing identity fraud by using someone else’s Social Security number may not be scrupulously prosecuted in America’s cutthroat labor market; still, we hesitate to legitimize the shadow economy by providing benefits for people who, after all, are breaking the law and driving down wages for others, including legal immigrants, who have a right to be here.
The New York State legislation was the result of a campaign by Make the Road and other nonprofit advocacy organizations that annually receive millions of taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to provide human services. In reality, these groups exist to advance a radical legislative agenda, establish a platform for allies to run for office, and stage street protests. Many of these groups are 501(c)(3) organizations, and so are technically not allowed to engage in partisan electoral activity or wage campaigns in regard to specific legislative items, though they typically work around this proscription by setting up allied shell groups under a slightly different IRS definition.
In the current political climate, though, groups like these hardly need to pretend to bother with such technicalities. Make the Road, along with the New York Immigration Coalition, the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, and many other groups that receive hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded support, launched a high-profile and noisy campaign to demand billions of dollars in support for “excluded workers”—a designation that originally included street vendors, prostitutes, and “40,000 New Yorkers recently released from incarceration or immigrant detention before or during the pandemic with little-to-no chances of finding a job.”
Cash handouts to recently released prisoners—in what was billed as an “excluded workers” unemployment relief fund—was too large a pill for all but the wokest state legislators to swallow and was perhaps included in the proposal only as a bargaining point. But bitter internecine fighting broke out among Democratic legislators over the idea of cutting $15,000 checks to illegal immigrants. Moderate members of the caucus from Long Island and upstate begged not to have to go back to their home districts and defend voting for such a hot item, while New York City’s hard-left race-baiters openly accused their cautious Democratic colleagues of being white supremacists and vowed never to co-sign legislation they sponsor in the future.
In the final push to get the legislation passed, Make the Road staged a series of spectacles. First, some regulars staged a “hunger strike,” which allegedly had them starving themselves for three weeks. (Make the Road stages such strikes at least every year.) Then, on the Thursday before Easter, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus’s washing the feet of his disciples, several city councilmembers assumed salvific humility by washing the feet of some grumpy and sour-faced “hunger strikers.”
The promised payments to illegal immigrants have garnered national mockery from the conservative media, and even the New York Times comments section signaled alarm from “lifelong liberals” who fear that the payout is a “gift to the Republicans.” But people who pay attention to how public money is spent in New York shouldn’t be surprised. For instance, Health + Hospitals, the city’s massive public health network, spends about $3 billion annually on unreimbursed procedures and care—that is, on medical care for illegal immigrants, who don’t qualify for Medicaid. That’s about 3 percent of the city budget, on a recurring basis. From that perspective, giving a one-time payment totaling 1 percent of the state budget to illegal immigrants seems, if not frugal, nothing out of the ordinary.
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