Workers in the Cash Economy Struggle to Access the Excluded Workers Fund

Source: Documented, 2021

Many New Yorkers working in the cash economy are being left out of the Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) because they cannot prove their work eligibility. The EWF provides up to $15,600 to workers who lost income during the COVID-induced economic shutdown but were ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The fund primarily benefits undocumented and partially-documented individuals and families.

The EWF requires applicants to submit documentation to prove they lost at least half of their income since the pandemic began, worked at least 15 hours per week before February 23, 2020, and made less than $26,208 between April 2020 and April 2021. This requirement may be satisfied by submitting W2s, records of paystubs, or electronic proof of filing their taxes for any of the years 2018, 2019, or 2020.

Although the program is designed to primarily help undocumented immigrants, it has become nearly impossible for many paid in cash to fulfill this category. Workers may submit a letter from their employer attesting that they worked at least 15 hours per week before losing their work-related earnings due to COVID in place of taxes. However, many employers are hesitant to admit that they employ people off the books.

Individuals who cannot get a letter of employment will most likely be left out of the benefits or have a difficult time in applying unless they can get an Individual Tax ID Number (ITIN). The New York State Department of Labor and Department of Taxation and Finance have partnered to ensure that any New Yorker who seeks to pay their state income taxes can do so. Even if they do not have an ITIN number or SSN, they can still file their 2020 taxes and receive a unique number to apply for the Tier 1 benefit of $15,600.

The IRS has also designated 14 Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TAC) in the state, where individuals can schedule an appointment to visit the center and apply for an ITIN and receive a stamped copy of their application which workers can submit for the Excluded Workers Fund. Applicants who have previously filed their ITIN application can also make an appointment and bring a copy of their application to get stamped.