DeAngelo & Quijano Bill to Combat Unemployment Benefit Appeal Delays Released by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo and Annette Quijano sponsored to combat a six-month backlog within the Christie administration for out-of-work New Jerseyans appealing the denial of unemployment benefits was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
The measure (A-3309) would require the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to rule on an unemployment insurance appeal within 60 days. If it does not make a determination within 60 days, the claimant would be paid withheld unemployment benefits and would begin receiving benefits as they would normally accrue under the unemployment compensation law.
The lawmakers said they were alerted to the problem after constituents seeking expedited appeals consideration notified legislators when they were denied unemployment benefits.
Upon contacting the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development, legislative staffers learned that the wait time for the Division of Unemployment Insurance to even begin to hear an appeal is between 20 and 24 weeks.
As of June-July of 2011, the average wait time for unemployment benefits appeals was 8 to 10 weeks.
“The difference between being able to provide for your family or being forced out your home is sometimes a matter of days,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “When deserved unemployment benefits are being unfairly denied, every day that goes by is a step further into the economic abyss. Residents, especially in this economic climate, deserve a fair and swift hearing. Delay is inexcusable, and it needs to be corrected immediately.”
“It is unconscionable that even one family may have already faced financial ruin because an unjust denial wasn’t reversed for months, instead of hours or days,” said Quijano (D-Union). “For many families, unemployment insurance has been not just a safety net, but a lifeline. To think that even one family has had that net unfairly pulled out from under them is an outrage. The administration needs to step up and make this right before another family finds themselves in a similar economic free fall.”
According to information provided by the Division of Unemployment Insurance, the state receives about 10,000 unemployment benefits claims a week, and the appeals division receives about 3,000 appeals cases a month. Recently, the UI appeals division has lost staff due to attrition, and the 41 remaining staffers cannot handle the workload.
While the Division has confirmed that it is in the process of hiring more staff members to handle appeals, a U.S. Department of Labor audit team has recently suggested that the Division of Unemployment Insurance staff their appeals division at the same level is was at before the beginning of the recession.
Under the bill, if the department decides after the 60 day deadline has past that the claimant is legitimately ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits, then the benefits may be modified or denied from that point forward, but any funds that were withheld and paid out resulting from the department’s delay would not have to be repaid, unless funds were paid as a result of intentional fraud by the claimant.
The bill was released by the Assembly Labor Committee.