New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is considering using federal funds to provide around $40 million in one-time stimulus payments to the state’s undocumented immigrants via executive action, according to five people familiar with the matter.
Representatives from Murphy’s office suggested the figure during a conference call with immigration advocates on Tuesday. Immigrant groups in New Jersey have lobbied for assistance during the course of the pandemic, to no avail.
The roughly $40 million figure — which would be funded through remaining federal CARES dollars — was a non-starter for advocates, who are seeking larger relief measures, such as $2,000 in direct stimulus payments to individuals and $600 in unemployment-like benefits. Sources said the 30-minute call grew “pretty heated” over the amount, which advocates said was not enough to provide real help to the state’s nearly half-million undocumented immigrants. But administrative sources pointed out that the amount offered is similar to what’s in a bill that has failed to move in the Legislature.
The Democratic governor, speaking at an unrelated press conference Wednesday, acknowledged the private debate and said he was still working through his options, including tapping federal aid.
“We are trying very much if not desperately to find a good solution here and I’m confident we can find one,” Murphy said. “Unless we bring all of us along, we will not find our way through this challenging journey.”
Immigrant advocates hoped New Jersey’s plan would be similar to a more generous offer made in New York, which just approved $2.1 billion for undocumented workers through a state budget deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that has fewer strings attached. They also said more money is needed because it has been nearly a year since the initial New Jersey bill, S.B. 2480, was introduced.
“People are going to hear $40 million and think that’s a lot of money,” said one advocate who was on the call. “But when you consider the amount of tax money this population is putting into the system — and is not getting anything back — it’s peanuts.”
Moving a bill through the Legislature in New Jersey could be difficult at a time when all 120 seats are up for reelection. The governor is also running for reelection this year.
A senior Murphy administration official said that ordering an executive action with federal stimulus dollars may be the only way to deliver cash to undocumented residents. Using state dollars would require the Legislature’s approval and that route could be politically perilous — the bill introduced last year which appropriated a similar amount for undocumented residents has yet to receive a committee hearing.
That official said more money could be allocated through the American Rescue Plan, although Murphy’s office is awaiting federal guidance on whether that tranche of federal stimulus money could be used for undocumented immigrants. The official noted that they are bound to the roughly $40 million figure since it would be coming from CARES money, which is running low.
No final deal or offer was made during the meeting.
The $40 million proposal comes as the state legislative Latino caucus urged Murphy last week to unilaterally create $2,000 stimulus payments and $600 in unemployment-like benefits for undocumented residents. Murphy had expressed support of relief measures for undocumented immigrants in recent weeks, saying at a recent press briefing that he was considering using federal stimulus money to fund such a program, although he did not provide specifics at the time.
Murphy has been a political ally of immigration advocates, vowing that New Jersey would become a “sanctuary state” and making driver’s licenses available to undocumented residents. But immigrant groups have become increasingly frustrated, saying their calls for relief have been largely ignored. They’ve turned up the public pressure on the governor as he’s embarking on his reelection campaign.
While no determinations have been made, the current proposal would be applicable mainly to ITIN filers — undocumented immigrants who file taxes with the IRS — since people must show they were impacted by the coronavirus to receive CARES funds, according to the administration official. It remains to be determined how much would be allotted per person, or when payments would be distributed. Logistical hurdles remain on how to provide the direct cash payments, although sources said New Jersey is looking to states like Washington as a model on how to send payments using CARES money.
Advocates said that undocumented workers have paid more than $1 billion into the state’s unemployment fund in the past decade, but have been excluded from federal relief. They claim to have mobilized hundreds of thousands of voters to vouch for the issue and plan to dial up public pressure for more money.
“We need to make this a political issue for Gov. Murphy,” one source on the call said. “He’s banking his reelection on portraying himself as being the most progressive governor. We’re going to call him out on what being progressive really means.”
Republicans have voiced reluctance for such a measure in the past. The Republican Governors Association said that “Murphy prioritizes illegal immigrants over NJ residents” when the governor first suggested he was considering providing relief for the undocumented. GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli has also opposed such a measure.
“The last thing that legal citizens who are waiting month upon month upon month for their unemployment benefits want to hear is that tax dollars, whether state or federal, are being used for illegal immigrants,” he said last week on NJ PBS. “Let’s take care of those that follow the rules first before we start looking to other populations.”