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Panel Also Approves DeAngelo Measure to Require Four-Weeks Written Notice Before Unemployment Benefits Lapse

The Assembly Labor Committee today advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly members Wayne P. DeAngelo, Celeste M. Riley, Peter J. Barnes III, Connie Wagner, and Nellie Pou that would bring New Jersey’s unemployment benefits system in line with 21st century technology and help struggling out-of-work residents more easily manage their benefits.

“The state currently runs its unemployment insurance program in a way that makes it unreasonably difficult for claimants to access their benefits,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “There is far too much technology available today for this process to remain so archaic. For someone out of work, and already burdened by stress, this program should be a vital lifeline not an added stressor.”

The bill (A-3494) would allow for any individual to file, reopen, cancel or close their claim for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits online. In doing so, the bill would require the Director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to create a website for the purpose of filing, reopening, cancelling or closing a claim for benefits. The website would be available for use by claimants 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Our current system only serves to exacerbate the stress of being unemployed by placing limitations on the days and hours that people can file claims via the Internet, restricting certain claimants from opening claims via the Internet, or freezing someone’s claim if they fail to file for their weekly benefits within the prescribed time period,” said Riley (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester).

The bill would also require individuals to report to the division in order to claim completed weeks of UI benefits, after they have filed an unemployment insurance claim. The bill provides that all claimants may report to claim completed weeks of unemployment benefits within 45 days of the last day of the designated benefit period via a website that is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

“It’s incredibly hard to reach the department by phone. Callers often get a recording instructing them to call back later due to long wait times. On occasions when they do get through, they are subjected to lengthy hold times, and when they do manage to speak to an actual person, it is only to schedule a call with a representative for weeks later,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex).

The current UI website allows claimants to file for benefits online only during business hours. It also restricts which days specific claimants can file claims. Meanwhile, many other states have UI Web sites that are accessible 24/7 without restrictions as to what hours or days claimants can file their claims online or close out claims.

“Another downside to our current system is that you must make an appointment to speak to a representative in order to cancel or close a UI claim,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “This can sometimes take several days or even weeks, keeping claims open longer than needed and resulting in unnecessary benefit payments or unintentional UI fraud.”

“With unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, it’s no wonder the current system is inundated,” said Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By shifting to a fully available online system we can alleviate a great deal of stress for our out-of-work residents and also help the Labor Department better handle the increased demand for unemployment services.”

The Assembly Labor Committee also advanced another measure (A-3450) sponsored by DeAngelo that would require the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide four weeks written notice prior to the date of final exhaustion of all UI benefits for an individual, including any state or federal extension of the UI benefits.

“This is an alarm bell measure to make sure struggling individuals are aware that their benefits are about to run out so they can either accelerate their job hunts or seek other available assistance to help them and their families get by,” added DeAngelo.

The bill would also require that the notification include a referral for services from the Department of Human Services and any other appropriate state agency to counsel and assist the individual to obtain any reDests which may be available for the individual and dependents of the individual, including housing and health coverage assistance.