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NJ restoring $24M to pandemic relief program for immigrants

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TRENTON – The Murphy administration announced Thursday night that it will replenish the federal funds taken from its COVID relief program for unauthorized immigrants and extend the program by one month through the end of February.

gov. Phil Murphy originally put $40 million into the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, then added $10 million more last month. But the administration also quietly reallocated $34 million out of the fund at the end of December because it was unspent and would have reverted to the federal government.

Advocacy groups reacted angrily when they learned about the lapse last week.

“We are glad to be able to extend the application period and offer this assistance to more New Jerseyans,” said acting Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman. “We continue to urge eligible residents to apply for the program and hope even more families will receive needed assistance now that there is more funding, simplified eligibility and more time to apply.”

The funding coming through the state’s share of American Rescue Plan funds will bring the program’s budget back to $40 million.

The announcement didn’t specify whether the $24 million in expanded funding will involve a vote by the legislature, as seems to be required through the state budget for any COVID federal funds spending initiative exceeding $10 million.

The Department of Human Services last week said the fund was on track to spend $17 million.

However, documentation rules that had complicated the process for some applicants have now been eliminated, under new federal rules released this month that allow states to make low-to-moderate income residents eligible for such assistance without needing to document a specific negative impact.

Under the new rules, individuals with annual household incomes of $55,000 or less, who live in New Jersey, are over 18 years old and were excluded from federal COVID stimulus payments and pandemic unemployment assistance can apply to the fund without additional documentation demonstrating COVID-related impacts.

The program is primarily for immigrants not legally in the country but also applies to people returning from the justice system and any other individuals otherwise excluded from pandemic-related financial help.

“The pandemic has posed challenges for residents across New Jersey, but those who were previously excluded from federal assistance have been unable to get the help they need,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “By continuing to fund the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund and simplifying the application process, we are making sure more families who are eligible for this program receive much-awaited assistance.”

Benefit amounts will continue to be $2,000 per eligible individual and a maximum of $4,000 per household.

DHS said it will evaluate previously denied applications and contact those with expired applications to make sure they are aware of the new program criteria.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected]

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