NJ unemployment: Delays for 75k workers should be resolved by Feb. 12, says labor commissioner
Robert Asaro-Angelo of the NJ Dept. of Labor discusses the state's unemployment situation during a briefing on Feb. 5, 2021. NorthJersey.com
Unemployment claims should be processed by Feb. 12 for the approximately 75,000 New Jersey workers who exhausted jobless benefits and have been waiting weeks for benefits from the latest round of federal stimulus to show up, state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said Friday.
Claimants should receive an email by the 12th telling them their claim is ready to certify, Asaro-Angelo said. If there are no issues, payments should arrive in bank accounts and debit cards as early as Feb. 15, depending on their certification date.
"The good news is we've completed the programming as of Tuesday so that no one else who has exhausted their benefits will be stuck," Asaro-Angelo added at a briefing in Trenton.
When asked if he was confident the claims would definitely be resolved by next week, Asaro-Angelo said: "Hopefully yes, I am confident. At the same time, there have been problems in the past and I can't tell you what's going on in the future."
Workers will have to certify for each week that they missed. For example, workers who ran out of benefits on Dec. 26, will have to certify for five weeks. The regular benefits should arrive in a lump sum payment, as well as a separate lump sum for the weekly $300 a couple of days later, Asaro-Angelo said.
Asaro-Angelo blamed former President Donald Trump for signing the $900 billion stimulus bill "at the last moment, not giving states enough time to program their systems for the 11-week expansion for all claimants without delay."
The Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 extended by 11 weeks, from the beginning of January through mid-March, a $300 supplemental unemployment insurance program, as well as regular benefits under two pandemic-specific programs, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the latter of which providebenefits for gig economy workers, freelancers or part-time workers.
"Many of you have expressed your anger with us over the delay," Asaro-Angelo said. "We realize the hardship many of you are facing. Our hearts break with every email and phone call we get daily describing dire situations and I know that nothing I am saying right now will help you pay the rent or put food on the table."
Workers continue to contact NorthJersey.com and The Record about how they are unable to reach live claims agents for help. Asaro-Angelo said by the end of February, the Labor Department expects to double the number of call center agents, and may expand call center hours.
This processing fix will not help everyone in the Garden State waiting for assistance: The Labor Department estimates about 4% of eligible claimants haven't received at least one check, meaning tens of thousands of workers still haven't been paid.
On Thursday, Murphy vetoed a bill to give certain unemployed workers eight additional weeks of jobless benefits, saying the bill was not needed because it duplicated federal programs that were extended in December.
Federal legislators are debating another massive stimulus bill that would extend unemployment benefits. Whether or not New Jersey has more issues implementing another extension depends on what's in the final language, the labor commissioner said.
"As far as this happening again, I don't foresee any more issues, but I'm not going to lie — if this extension has 17 new programs in it, rather than just extending what exists, that will probably be a problem for us" and many other states, Asaro-Angelo said.
The labor commissioner pointed to news headlines in other states to emphasize that unemployment delays were not just an issue in New Jersey, but conceded that "there are some states that have gotten it all done," or fully implemented the stimulus extensions.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Jersey has passed out more than $22 billion in benefits to more than 1.5 million workers — more than 43 other states, he said.
But the pandemic has highlighted flaws in the unemployment system "that does not sustain everyone who is unemployed," he said.
"The time it’s taken to turn stimulus benefits into actual economic relief for claimants supports our call for a federal solution to the outdated, convoluted underpinnings of our federal unemployment system," Asaro-Angelo said.
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s Legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.