Workers excluded from the state’s pandemic relief programs are demanding funding from Albany — and going on a hunger strike to bring attention to their cause.
“Fast for the Forgotten” is an ongoing protest that began Tuesday in front of the Church of the Ascension for the workers who say have been overlooked in federal relief funding. These overlooked individuals — who are mostly immigrants and undocumented — are demanding $3.5 billion in aid be added to the next New York State budget deadline on April 1 to provide retroactive, direct cash assistance to those who did not receive any government help.
The cause is so important that the protesters are willing to put their own health at risk by refusing to eat until state lawmakers hear their cry and provide relief.
Prior to the hunger strike commencing, a press conference was held on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 1047 Amsterdam Ave. There, workers and community leaders shared stories explaining how they have fallen through the cracks of pandemic aid without receiving unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, or other government assistance at all within the past last year.
According to Make the Road NY — an organization representing working-class and immigrant people — thousands of undocumented workers in New York state did not receive any federal or state government assistance during the pandemic.
“We have farm workers, service workers, street vendors, recently incarcerated people as the backbone of our economy. We are here today because it has been more than 300 days with zero dollars in government support for excluded essential workers,” said Bianca Guerrero, coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers campaign.
She highlighted the many undocumented workers who are facing mountains of debt and are unable to afford their rent let alone buy food. She shared that state leaders have put forward approximately $2.1 billion for these workers, but activists are saying this is a start, but it is still not enough.
“We are fighting for $3.5 billion to make sure excluded workers get benefits on par with other New Yorkers,” Guerrero added.
One by one, speakers revealed the ways they have been left behind in government aid despite working through the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day construction workers, food vendors, and others continue to struggle to make ends meet.
With this in mind, Primary Care Dr. Andrew Goldstein voiced his support of “Fast for the Forgotten” as a sign of respect and admiration for fellow essential workers.
“This pandemic has had a terrible health toll, but it has had an economic toll and psychological toll,” Goldstein said. “I’m here for my patients because I can’t prescribe them money, and money is the cure for being kept from work. I’m here to give a prescription to the legislators and the Governor, this is my prescription: We must fund excluded workers. We are here for you and support you, and we are going to win with you.”
Despite the long, hard road ahead for the fasting workers, the mood remained jovial with those in the movement dancing to traditional Latin music.
The conference concluded with strikers entering vehicles and driving to the Church of the Ascension, at 10th Street and 5th Avenue in the Village, where they will be participating in the “Fast for the Forgotten” before moving on to Judson Memorial Church at 55 Washington Square on March 19.
When amNewYork Metro asked one worker how long they are prepared to starve themselves for, the man replied: “As long as it takes.