Advocacy groups and nonprofits in New Jersey are calling on the public to support relief initiatives that aim to help New Jersey's most vulnerable workers who can't access government assistance during this pandemic, including unauthorized immigrants.

The organizations, which cite overwhelming need by New Jerseyans who may not qualify for unemployment relief or federal stimulus checks, also want New Jersey to establish a disaster relief program for individuals who've been excluded from COVID-19 relief efforts.

"We are calling on our state to do better than the federal government did and not to exclude the immigrant families who've been left out," Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said during a telephone news conference on Wednesday. "We believe these families are part of our state and therefore should be part of our safety net."

Unauthorized immigrants were not eligible to receive a cash infusion as part of a $2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump in late March. Residents and households earning below a certain income threshold received payments of at least $1,200 to help offset financial constraints caused by the public health emergency.

"New Jersey's half million undocumented immigrants pay more than a billion in taxes every year, and do the back-breaking, risky and essential work that keeps food on the tables of New Jerseyans who are sheltering in place," said Sara Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey. "Yet none will receive a penny in COVID aid."

Christian Estevez, president of the Latino Action Network, said needed aid for immigrant workers can help ensure they participate in social distancing and not force them to work while sick so they don't risk falling "into homelessness and/or starvation."

"While we are grateful for all of the private funds that are being raised to help immigrant working families, we are concerned that these efforts will fall woefully short," Estevez said.

The groups released a list of funds that are providing direct financial assistance to "New Jersey's most vulnerable workers," and urged the public to lend a financial hand.

Those needing assistance also include legal citizens who may not qualify for unemployment benefit payments because, among several other potential reasons, they were forced to leave their job in order to handle child care responsibilities, or were not employed long enough prior to losing their job.

In less than one week, a recovery fund launched by United Way of Northern New Jersey for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constraint, Employed) residents received 500 applications from individuals hoping for direct financial relief.

"And the applications keep rolling in," said Kiran Gaudioso, CEO. "ALICE families need help now to afford the basics for survival — rent, heat, food, costly medications, and internet service so their children can continue to learn."

More than a third of New Jersey households, in normal circumstances, fall in the ALICE category. United Way expects more households will become ALICE as the crisis drags on.

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