(TRENTON) – Taking action to better equip New Jersey’s unemployment benefits system to handle the unprecedented number of claims brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the Assembly Labor Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation to allocate $50 million in federal funding to improve the system’s capacity to process claims.
The pandemic has caused unparalleled stress on New Jersey’s unemployment insurance (UI) infrastructure. Over two million claims have been filed since mid-March of 2020 at a time when businesses were shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has needed to adapt to several changes in federal benefits and extensions, including the current $300 per week supplemental benefit and 11-week extension designated under the most recent federal coronavirus relief package passed in December.
While the number of initial unemployment claims has been steadily decreasing in recent weeks, the outdated claims system remains stressed and thousands of claimants have experienced lapses in benefits. Countless more have had trouble filing initial claims since the pandemic began.
This bill (A-4380) would allocate $50 million in available federal assistance to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to improve the benefit claims processing capacity of the UI program.
The measure’s sponsors, Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Bill Moen (D-Camden, Gloucester) and Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) released the following joint statement:
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the cracks in the foundation of our unemployment insurance benefits system. The Department of Labor has delivered a record amount of benefits since the crisis took hold, but its efforts have been blunted by an antiquated computer system that is in dire need of improvements.
“As a result, thousands of residents have waited weeks to months for their claims to be processed or to receive benefits throughout the pandemic. Unemployment already brings enormous stress and uncertainty. The last thing families need is to wonder if assistance will arrive on time, or at all.
“Even after this public health crisis is behind us, we must make sure our unemployment system is prepared to handle economic emergencies and process claims quickly and efficiently.”