Some NYC Vendors Are Using Excluded Workers Fund Aid to Cover City Fines

Vendors and advocates say increased city enforcement is hampering the industry’s recovery, as workers continue to see fewer sales since the pandemic began.

Adi Talwar

For the past decade, Miguel has sold catchy seasonal items on the South Bronx streets—winter hats, gloves, scarves for the cold season, and caps, toys, and flip-flops for the summer—and in less than a year, he has received three tickets for not having a general merchandise vendor’s permit.

Miguel, who asked that only his first name be disclosed, has paid two of those fines, at $250 each, with the aid money he received from the state’s Excluded Workers Fund (EWF). But now he doesn’t know where to get the money to pay for the third of the same amount.

“I don’t know how to pay for it,” Miguel said over the phone in Spanish. “The money I received from the Excluded Workers’ Fund went to catch up on debts, but now I am still indebted.”

The Excluded Workers Fund provided financial assistance to New Yorkers who suffered loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic but were excluded from federal assistance programs, including undocumented immigrant workers. The fund granted money to thousands of street vendors in the city, advocates estimate, though the exact number is unknown.

In New York City alone, The Street Vendor Project assisted 1,100 vendors with applications to the EWF, according to the advocacy group. The EWF ran out of money last fall, though workers and advocates are currently pushing for the state to replenish it.

Meanwhile, the financial recovery of those in the vending industry, they say, has been hampered by increased city enforcement against vendors, which can result in hefty fines for things like operating without a permit—something many vendors do, the result of a decades-long city cap on the number of those permits that made it near-impossible to obtain one legally.

During the second half of 2021, city vendors have seen an increase in the number of violations issued, closing 2021 with slightly more tickets than the pre-pandemic numbers. And despite former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to shift enforcement duties away from the NYPD, police continued to issue hundreds of tickets to vendors last year, in addition to the tickets issued by the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), which took over as the main enforcement agency in 2021.

This year does not seem to be much different. In just the first two months of 2022, (DCWP) has issued 171 tickets—which could mean 1,026 tickets by the end of the year if this pace continues. Miguel, for example, received two tickets in January alone.

City officials say enforcement is often in response to complaints from the public; DCWP said it received 6,525 complaints about vending in 2021. Traditionally, concerns around vending have included gripes about trash, blocked sidewalks and the potential impact on brick-and-mortar small businesses.

But both street vendors and advocates say the uptick in city fines comes at a time when vendors’ sales have not fully recovered from the pandemic.

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