NEW YORK (PIX11) — As budget talks continue in Albany, lawmakers and advocates hope the state will release funds for immigrants who don’t qualify for health care. According to Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, a decades-long fight for health care coverage for undocumented immigrants, which has been a topic of debate, could soon become a reality in New York.

“We are in negotiations with the Governor’s office. I will say things look cautiously optimistic because things are not done until the ink is dry, but I will keep fighting until the bitter end,” said González-Rojas, who represents the 34th Assembly District, including Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Woodside, and Corona, in Queens.

González-Rojas is the cosponsor of the “Coverage for All” bill. The legislation would amend the social services law in relation to coverage for health care services programs for undocumented New Yorkers whose immigration status prevents them from qualifying for federal financial participation, like Medicare. 

“The immigrant, not only in New York City, but also in the State of New York, has quite frankly helped us move through this pandemic, so it is so important that we ensure that they have access to healthcare,” said González-Rojas. “Right now, our undocumented community is marginalized and excluded from the New York State Essential Plan, even if they meet every other requirement. So ‘Coverage For All’ would ensure that the only barrier that excluded them from that plan, which is their immigration status, would be lifted.”

Earlier in March, both the Senate and state Assembly had backed the nonbinding, one-house budget resolutions. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who proposed a $216 Billion Budget Plan, also signaled that she would negotiate on the matter, although she still needs to align the costs with lawmakers. As the executive and legislative branches inch closer to approving the state’s budget, González-Rojas pointed out that investing in preventive care would cost less to the state in the long term. 

“The plan is fiscally smart because we would not be paying for emergency care, which is less effective and more expensive,” said the Assemblymember.

Immigrants make up 54% of the state’s essential workforce, but thousands don’t have access to health insurance because of their immigration status, according to the New York Immigration Coalition, a nonprofit initiative that offers services and advocates for noncitizens’ rights.

“Our immigrant community has been the economic engine for the state long before the pandemic. During the pandemic, we did the work that people couldn’t do or didn’t want to. We cared for people’s kids, we cooked for folks, delivered food,” said Maurad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Under the current laws, undocumented immigrants cannot use Medicaid or subsidized Qualified Health Plan coverage on the New York State of Health online marketplace. The few available options are Medicaid during pregnancy, or Emergency Medicaid, a program that covers emergency hospital care for acute medical conditions but does not include follow-up care. 

“There is very little available right now (for undocumented immigrants). If you are a child, up to the age of 19, you are eligible for child health plus, and that’s pretty much it for preventative care,” said Awawdeh.

As many as 154,000 New Yorkers would immediately benefit from the bill if it’s approved. 

“If we learned something from COVID-19, it’s that we are just as healthy as our neighbors,” said Awawdeh. “The state needs to stop playing math games and take a step forward in ensuring that we are delivering healthcare justice and equity for all communities.” 

The deadline for the approval of the New York budget was April, but a stop-gap measure to keep the state running was passed this week so lawmakers and Hochul could continue negotiations.