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By Sam Bojarski

Some of New York City’s more than 1 million essential workers, in addition to frontline workers throughout the state, could apply for a college scholarship under a bill introduced by Haitian-American state Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus. 

“In our community if you’re talking about essential workers, there are so many I can’t even count them,” said Porez Luxama, executive director of the Life of Hope Center, a community-based nonprofit that facilitates educational and economic opportunities for residents of central Brooklyn, including many immigrants. 

While doctors and nurses have been widely acknowledged as essential front line employees, those who work as social workers and at essential food-service businesses have kept New York’s economy functioning since March. 

“For me, if I’m going to give an award, it’s going to be those people,” Luxama also said. 

Under the Essential New York Scholarship Program introduced by Frontus, health care workers, grocery store employees and other essential workers defined under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in March could have higher education expenses covered ‒ as long as they have provided an essential service for a defined period of 90 days. The proposed legislation was inspired by the New Deal-era GI Bill. 

Essential workers stock shelves in a Brooklyn grocery store. Photo credit: Sam Bojarski

Frontus, the sponsor of the legislation to create the scholarship, said the idea originated during conversations with legislative staff about ways to offer support during the pandemic. 

“Our essential workers were literally putting their lives on the line and many of them paid the ultimate price,” said Frontus, who represents the 46th Assembly District in south Brooklyn. 

According to data from the New York City Comptroller’s office, more than half of all New York City frontline workers are foreign-born, while 75 percent are people of color. The large number of Haitians working in essential industries has contributed to the devastating toll the pandemic has had on the community, the Haitian Times reported earlier this month. 

Frontus said eligibility for the scholarship is not based on immigration status, but rather on the period of time an essential employee has been working. 

According to a draft of the bill shared with the Haitian Times, the scholarship would cover the cost of tuition at any City University of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY) institution, in addition to non-tuition costs of attendance like room and board. Those attending a separate, approved program within the state can earn an award amount equal to tuition charged at a four-year SUNY institution. These students can also earn help paying for non-tuition costs. 

The bill states that individuals shall have performed an essential service for a 90-day period, between March 7, 2020, and the beginning of phase four of reopening in the applicant’s region of residence. Eligible individuals shall have also not been dismissed from their jobs for a cause.


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Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and...