This summary about Excluded Workers Fund fraud was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.
In January, Documented reported on a spate of Excluded Workers Fund debit card thefts that robbed beneficiaries of thousands of dollars meant to help them get back on their feet amid the ongoing pandemic.
While reporting today’s follow-up story on the thefts, Documented reporter Rommel H. Ojeda learned local nonprofits and politicians have been helping victims manage their fraud claims, and that the majority of those affected have recovered their lost money
Still, a significant number of defrauded Excluded Workers Fund beneficiaries haven’t recuperated their stolen funds because their claims are stuck in administrative limbo. Many have reached out to Documented over the past three months after reading our initial report.
Their back-and-forth with BlackHawk Network, the company responsible for the EWF’s prepaid Visa cards, has often led to unanswered queries and bureaucratic red tape, all further complicated by linguistic barriers, says Ojeda.
“When victims call BlackHawk, they’re told to call the Department of Labor, but when they call the Department of Labor, they’re told they can’t be helped because they don’t have a Social Security number – which doesn’t make sense for a program that was specifically designed to help people who don’t have a social security number,” Ojeda explains.
Many defrauded EWF recipients without connections to politicians or nonprofits have simply given up, despite having to pay taxes on the full credited amount they never received.
“[BlackHawk] has not taken responsibility. Even when we reached out, they were always sending us in circles,” says Ojeda. “Even if they close a case and say they haven’t found an error, that would be better than keeping people hanging in limbo without knowing what has happened, with no response to their claims 100 days in.”
Though he’s been on the story for months, Ojeda’s familiarity hasn’t softened the emotional toll of seeing the human costs of the thefts and subsequent fallout.
“It’s always people who have families and are significantly in debt. It never gets easier hearing their stories,” he says. “Hopefully they get their money back.”
Read the full report exclusively on Documented.
STORIES WE ARE FOLLOWING
Adams’ campaign plans for immigrants largely unrealized: Few of the 11 proposals in Adams’ WeRISE plan to protect immigrant communities have shown results so far. –City Limits
NYPD: Half arrested in hate crime attacks this year had mental health issues:
Police add that there have been 202 confirmed hate crimes in New York City so far this year, up 27% from the same period in 2021. – Gothamist
Adding corrections officers won’t improve Rikers, report indicates:
With chronic staff absenteeism at the crux of many of Rikers Island’s biggest problems, a report finds hiring more officers likely won’t provide a viable fix. –Vera Institute of Justice
Around the U.S.
San Ysidro Port of Entry processing asylum seekers despite Title 42:
Customs and Border Protection have made some case-by-case exemptions to the pandemic-era rule rapidly expelling asylum seekers. – San Diego Union-Tribune
Man found guilty of defrauding border wall donors faces further legal action:
Although the criminal case against Brian Kolfage has been resolved, he and his We Build the Wall group now face a defamation suit and a federal government suit. – ProPublica and The Texas Tribune
WHO issues report on harms of immigrant detention:
New WHO/Europe research outlines the severe impact of immigrant detention on migrants’ physical and mental health both during and long after the experience. – World Health Organization
California couple sentenced to prison for abuse of Guatemalan immigrants:
The couple was found to have conspired to force victims into hard labor after luring them to the U.S. with promises of a better life. –Los Angeles Times
Connecticut to expand Medicaid to children regardless of immigration status: While children older than 12 on Jan. 1, 2023 will remain ineligible, those who are under age 12 on that date will be able to keep their insurance through age 19. – CT Mirror
Massachusetts moves toward letting undocumented immigrants obtain driver’s licenses: Take a look at what has changed in the state over the past two decades to make this possible. –Commonwealth Magazine
Biden asks Congress to provide Afghan refugees to legal status: The request was included as part of a broader supplemental budget request centered on emergency aid for Ukraine. – CNN
U.S. Embassy in Havana issues visas to Cubans after 4-year hiatus: Cubans had previously been forced to apply for visas in person at U.S. embassies in Colombia or Guyana — trips many couldn’t afford. – Reuters
Fear of undocumented immigrants helps J.D. Vance triumph in Ohio primaries: Local fears about immigration played a key role in pushing J.D. Vance’s Ohio Senate Republican primary campaign to a win. – The Economist
Why judges are basically in charge of U.S. immigration policy now: Advocates argue that with Congress taking a back seat on real immigration reform, immigration policy is increasingly being shaped by courts. –Time