N.J. lawmakers urge Murphy to increase staffing to handle unemployment backlog

Posted May 11, 2020

The leaders of the state Senate on Monday released a letter urging the governor to devote more state employees and resources to reduce the backlog of New Jersey workers suffering while waiting for unemployment benefits.

More than a million workers have applied for unemployment benefits in the Garden State, and while 721,000 are receiving benefits, hundreds of thousands more are not.

The state has seen an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims since mid-March, when businesses statewide were ordered to close their doors or dramatically curtail their services to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, people who found themselves without a job have complained of waiting more than a month for benefits or running up against an overwhelmed online application system and call centers.

New unemployment claims have begun to slow in recent weeks after peaking at 215,000 in a single week at the end of March and start of April. Still, more than 88,000 workers sought benefits the week ending May 2 — the most recent data available. Nearly 1.02 million people here have applied for benefits since mid-March.

New Jersey workers are eligible for 60 percent of their wages, up to $713, for up to 26 weeks. Recipients will also receive $600 in additional Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments from the federal coronavirus stimulus.

State lawmakers said in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy and Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo that getting this money into the hands of unemployed workers must be a priority and requested the governor dedicate every available state employee to cutting this backlog.

“In this moment, ensuring that residents can remain in their homes, put food on their table and pay for out of pocket medical expenses is a moral obligation of the government. Our residents are suffering, and the Legislative constituent offices are receiving calls and emails from residents not getting through to the unemployment services,” they said.

“If there is a single state employee available to assist, they should be at the unemployment office. If training is needed, then train. If licenses are needed, then buy the licenses. This is an immediate priority and the time to deliver on this is now," they continued.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Sens. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, and Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, signed onto the letter.

A spokeswoman for Murphy declined to comment on the letter.

The labor department said Thursday that it has paid out $1.9 billion, including $900 million in state unemployment benefits and $989 million in supplemented federal aid.

“As we pass the milestone of 1 million claims filed – a number so staggering, we never thought we would come close to reaching it in such a compressed period of time – I’m incredibly proud of the tireless work of our staff to get nearly $2 billion into the bank accounts of so many New Jersey workers, to support their families,” Asaro-Angelo said in a statement accompanying the latest data last week.

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