Unemployment benefits extended by 20 weeks for thousands of N.J. residents

Posted Dec 09, 2020

Tens of thousands of unemployed New Jerseyans will be eligible for a 20-week extension of their unemployment benefits after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that will change requirements for claimants.

It will be a crucial time for extended benefits to kick in, as some of the 1.4 million New Jerseyans who have claimed payments since March 15 — when unemployment claims skyrocketed after Murphy declared a state of emergency and shut down nonessential businesses — could see their benefits expire by Friday if they didn’t meet the requirements.

The new law, A4852, which was unanimously passed in both chambers of the state Legislature, changes the requirements so only one of those criteria needs to be met, which would also be in line with the federal requirements.

Primary sponsors Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, and Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a joint statement that as the coronavirus cases continues surging across the state, “we must do everything in our power to bolster our unemployment program and help unemployed workers through this difficult time.”

The law will apply to unemployed workers who have exhausted the base 26 weeks of benefits and additional 13 weeks of CARES Act benefits, which runs through the end of the year.

People seeking the extension would have to have earned wages equivalent to 40 times their weekly benefit rate, and have earned $200 per 20 weeks at minimum wage in their base period.

Murphy, who has repeatedly taken shots at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for holding up desperately needed stimulus packages, called on the federal government to “step up, (while) we’re doing our part to help working people weather the storm.”

“These families also need Washington to step up and extend emergency federal benefits which are set to expire at the end of this year. This cannot be left to the last minute. Everyone needs to work together to get that job done right now,” he said at the Dec. 4 press briefing.

It’s still unclear if a second stimulus check would include unemployment benefits, though a draft outlining the $908 billion plan could include supplemental payments to unemployed workers through April.

More than 1.8 million New Jersey workers have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, shortly after the state’s first coronavirus case pushed Murphy to effectively shut down much of the state. At the height of the pandemic, more than 200,000 new claims were filed weekly. New filings dropped over the summer as restrictions lifted, but claims spiked for the first time in six weeks last week.

Tens of thousands of workers remain in the backlog, including some workers who haven’t received payment since they applied in March. The Labor Department claims 97% of eligible workers have received at least one payment.

The unemployment insurance extensions were provided by the federal government when New Jersey hit high rates of unemployment in May, along with 48 other states. Once the state hit the 6% and 8% unemployment rates, the benefits program were extended 13 weeks and 20 weeks, respectively.

The new law, which Murphy signed on Friday, will apply to claims that have been open since May 2019, and would reevaluate claimants who were denied extra benefits in June.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-12-10 02:46:25 -0800