NJ promises fixes to $40 million immigration fund amid criticism over expired benefits

Carlos Castañeda, another Cosecha organizer, said the state needs to better communicate the process to the community or the program will fail again.

“If community members who need access to this fund don’t know they can now go ahead and apply due to one less hurdle in their path, it will be the same,” did he declare. “There is a disconnect in this top-down process.”

Immigrant groups are also calling on the state to hire more evaluators to screen applications. Assessors said that while applications that meet all the requirements can take 30 minutes to an hour to be approved, others with missing documents can take several days. Some lawyers said the candidates waited more than a month for an answer.

DHS is currently working with five nonprofits to review applications, but it’s unclear whether they will contract with other organizations. Loayza-McBride said the department has also hired temporary state staff to increase capacity.

To date, more than 13,000 people have applied to the New Jersey Disenfranchised Fund. About 3,100 were approved and received $7.5 million in benefits; 500 were refused.

With individual benefits capped at $2,000 and $4,000 per household, the fund is expected to help about 20,000 people — a fraction of the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey.

Lawyers said the state needs to do more work to educate residents about the fund and get them to apply by the end of February.

“That month-long delay is their responsibility to make it happen, it’s not us,” said Jorge Torres of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.

State officials said they will work with their nonprofit partners to host more community events and promote the program on social media.

On Monday, attorneys also called on Murphy and the state legislature to increase the fund to $1 billion. But Murphy has limited powers over how he can allocate federal funds from the US bailout. Any amount over $10 million must be approved by the Joint Budget Oversight Committee.

Although $34 million of the fund was reallocated to other spending last year, Murphy will replenish the program with $24 million from the federal stimulus package in multiple tranches. An additional $10 million had already been allocated last month, bringing the total benefit amount to $40 million, as originally promised.

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