(TRENTON) – More than one million unemployment claims have been filed in New Jersey since mid-March, as many businesses have needed to close or reduce hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday cleared legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem) to expand benefits and eligibility for unemployment insurance (UI) and establish a voluntary job-sharing program.
“Behind every unemployment claim is a real person who is likely anxious about their future,” said Taliaferro. “They’re wondering when they’ll be able to go back to work safely, or maybe if they’ll be able to pay their bills this month. We should do all we can to expand access to unemployment benefits so that we can ease the tremendous financial burden this public health crisis has placed on so many families.”
Currently, those employed in New Jersey may work part-time while collecting unemployment insurance benefits if they experience a lack of work. If their part-time earnings exceed 20 percent of their weekly UI benefit, their benefits are decreased. This legislation (A-4132) 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.
The measure addresses employees of education institutions, who under current law may not receive UI benefits when unemployed during a holiday or break between successive academic terms, including the summer, even if the institution is in session. The measure would provide that employees who are laid off in the summer may receive benefits even if the institution is in session during the summer, among other protections.
“There’s never been a more important time to expand eligibility for our unemployment insurance program,” said Taliaferro. “This will directly benefit the thousands of New Jersey residents who are out of work or working reduced hours as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Additionally, the bill would establish the Employee Job-Sharing Furlough Protection Act to provide eligible employers guidance on how to participate in a shared work program as permitted under New Jersey law. Under the program, employers could reduce hours for a group of workers, and those workers may be eligible for short-term unemployment benefits for their lost hours of work. Workers could continue to receive health insurance, pension coverage and other benefits.
“Shared work programs save jobs, plain and simple,” said Taliaferro. “During these incredibly difficult times, we want as many people to keep their jobs as possible. Participating in a shared work program is a viable way for employers to avoid layoffs, and for workers to continue to receive benefits as we work toward economic recovery.”
The measure would be effective immediately.