(NORTHFIELD) – As businesses have been forced to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, over one million people have filed unemployment claims in New Jersey. The casino industry in Atlantic County has been among the hardest hit, leaving the future of nearly 33,000 jobs in jeopardy as casinos remain closed.
Assembly Democrats John Armato and Vince Mazzeo (both D-Atlantic) have received thousands of calls and emails to their legislative office in Northfield from constituents struggling to file unemployment claims and receive benefits.
“Every day we hear stories from people who feel like they’ve gotten lost filing for unemployment,” said Armato. “We understand that the Department of Labor is facing unprecedented circumstances, but we also need to do all we can to make sure claims are processed and people receive their benefits.”
“Many families are grappling with unemployment for the first time,” said Mazzeo. “Applying for unemployment insurance can be tedious and confusing, especially in these uncertain times. We want our constituents to know that we are here to help them through this crisis, and we’re taking steps both here in Atlantic County and in Trenton to update and improve the system.”
The legislative office has sent over 2,000 claims from constituents to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for guidance on how to resolve outstanding issues. Staff are fielding an influx of calls and emails and working to advocate for constituents experiencing issues in the unemployment system.
Armato and Mazzeo are also working with the Unite Here Local 54 hospitality workers union to assist casino workers and assess the needs of the industry, particularly as New Jersey moves forward in reopening plans.
Last week, the Assemblymen both voted in favor of a bill (A-4132) to expand benefits and eligibility for unemployment insurance (UI). The measure would allow workers to earn up to 40 percent of their weekly UI benefit before their benefits are reduced during the time that there is federal financing of State unemployment benefits. There is currently federal financing under the CARES Act, which also provides a $600 per week payment to workers laid off or furloughed during the health crisis.
The bill would also expand eligibility for UI benefits by reducing the earnings threshold required to receive benefits. Workers would need to earn 10 times the State minimum wage over 20 weeks, rather than the current 20 times the minimum wage.
“This public health crisis has created an economic crisis,” said Armato. “Thousands of people will depend on unemployment insurance to get them through. By expanding benefits and eligibility for UI, we will be giving more people a lifeline.”
The Department of Labor expects to process nearly 140,000 applications within the next week. The agency must abide by federal guidelines when processing claims and confirming income history, which can lead to delays. Armato and Mazzeo urge residents to read over resources found at myunemployment.nj.gov/labor/myunemployment/covid.shtml to ensure they are filing their claim correctly to avoid further delays.
“We’re glad to hear help is on the way for thousands of claimants,” said Mazzeo. “However, we aren’t out of the woods yet. No one should be forced to wait weeks on end for answers about their claim issues. Going forward, we’d like to explore ways to help the Department of Labor to process claims more quickly and efficiently.”
For more information on unemployment insurance in New Jersey, visit https://myunemployment.nj.gov/labor/myunemployment/.