The fund received 528 applications and as of Jan. 26, less than half (216 applications) had been approved. Of the $27 million available for this fund, less than $1 million has been disbursed so far.

Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor

Flooding in Queens following Hurricane Ida.

This article originally appeared in Spanish. Lea la versión en español aquí.

The relief fund for undocumented New Yorkers that covered damage caused by Hurricane Ida’s remnants closed more than a month ago, and about at least $23 million remains unallocated, based on the data so far and City Limits’ estimates.

But Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office has said it is too early to speculate on what will happen to those funds, despite calls from advocates that the money be repurposed to provide other services to the state’s undocumented communities.

“It is too early to speculate on use of remaining funds based on claims that are very likely to continue well into next year. The proposed 2023 Executive Budget places funds in the Department of State’s budget to respond to all applications received,” a spokesman for the governor told City Limits.

Six community-based organizations were in charge of both the application process and the distribution of the funds. Organizations such as the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) would like to see such a program expand, or become permanent.

“We would advocate for an extension, along with other providers,” said Steve Mei, director of CPC Brooklyn Community Services. “The state has not necessarily closed the door on this possibility.”

The Ida relief fund was announced on Sept. 26—25 days after the storm hit New York—and designed to help residents who suffered damages from the historic flooding, but who didn’t qualify for federal aid because of their immigration status. It operated jointly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual Assistance Program, and both programs closed on Jan. 4.

That three months and nine-day window was not enough time for affected New Yorkers to learn of the existence of a program that for the first time focused on undocumented immigrants, said several of the organizations involved, nor did it allow partnering groups ample time to break down barriers to encourage people to apply.

The fund received 528 applications and as of Jan. 26, less than half (only 216) had been approved. Of the $27 million available for this fund, less than $1 million has been disbursed to applicants so far: only $626,920. More than 300 additional applications are currently pending and likely to be approved. If those are paid out at similar amounts to those approved so far, and subtracting estimated fees paid to nonprofits administering the program, that will steal leave at least $23 million unspent, according to City Limits’ analysis of the numbers.

“I believe that many community members did not apply. There may be some misinformation on what is reimbursable, and eligibility,” Mei said.

“Having no registration deadline would have been beneficial for those who just didn’t know about the fund,” added Julianne Pannelli, director of special projects for Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS). 

If an extension is not achieved, Becca Talzek, deputy director of Make the Road New York, said this money should be reallocated to a program that targets the same undocumented population.

“There are two ideas: expanding health insurance to include this population; another, putting it into the Excluded Workers Fund,” said Talzek, who added that these proposals have not yet been formally presented to the governor. 

Unlike Ida’s relief fund, the Excluded Workers Fund—which provided one-time payments to New Yorkers excluded from federal stimulus payments and other COVID-19 relief assistance—received more than 350,000 applications. Its funds were exhausted in just over two months, ultimately distributing money to less than half of those who applied (more than 130,000 applications).

The coalition of excluded workers, along with some legislators, are calling for $3 billion to be included in the state budget this year to refill the fund, citing the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic.

“We have come across numerous individuals who are behind on rent. Unfortunately this grant is not a rent relief project and can not help in that manner,” Mei said of the Ida relief funds.

The New York Department of State declined to say why the application deadline for the fund was not extended. Although the time to register and apply has ended, organizations now have several months to continue working with each applicant to obtain the documents that will support their claim, while disbursements will continue to occur.

No application has been rejected so far, and the organizations in charge believe that most of those remaining will be approved as well, because they screened applicants to determine which fund they were eligible for. As a result, more people (about 587) learned that they were eligible for the FEMA fund, and one in two were referred to FEMA’s program instead.

Days before the first original application deadline (Nov. 26, 2021), only 32 applicants had received funds and as of December, 66 had received the aid while 79 were in the process of receiving it, as previously reported by City Limits.

In the end, some 3,065 people called or walked into the partnering nonprofits’ offices to get information about the Fund, according to the governor’s office. New York City officials estimated in September 2021 that some 5,100 undocumented immigrants had been affected by the storm.

Make the Road New York was the organization that served the most people, with 2,000 calls or visits, and about 352 of those were referred to apply for FEMA relief instead, Talzek said.

Of the state funds distributed so far, very few applicants have received direct housing-related assistance: only $86,698. The vast majority of cash assistance, $540,222, has gone to the “other needs assistance” category, which covers things such as vehicle damage, moving expenses, and childcare.

But some who sought aid weren’t able to meet the program’s documentation requirements. 

“Some were unable to provide proof of vehicle losses,” explained Carola Otero Bracco, executive director of Neighbors Link, “because the vehicle title was in a friend’s name.”

Projecting what’s left of the fund, if the remaining applications are approved for an amount similar to what has been seen so far ($2,902), then the 312 pending would use almost $1 million, for a grand total of just over $1.5 million.

The only way for most of the funds to be used is for each of the pending applications to be approved for the maximum level of possible support ($72,000); if that were to happen, some $22,464,000 would be spent, in addition to the $626,920 dollars disbursed so far.

While that’s unlikely to happen, the nonprofits administering the fund say they do expect the number of those who’ve been helped by the program to increase in the coming months.

“There is a great deal of follow-up for community members who have applied but have not completed the application process. That number for reimbursement will increase,” Mei said.

This story has been updated since original publication.