N.J. unemployment claims leveling off as gyms, schools reopen

Posted Sep 03, 2020

Another 20,176 New Jersey workers filed new unemployment claims for the week ending in Aug. 29, a number that remained steady for the second week in a row, the state Department of Labor announced Thursday.

Unemployment claims have been flowing in consistently since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March, but now that gyms and schools are reopening and indoor dining resumes, the number of claims is expected to fluctuate.

“As long as this pandemic continues to show its power over our economy, the Labor Department will continue to pump vital, family sustaining benefits into the bank accounts of out-of-work New Jerseyans,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “While our Department is bound by federal laws and regulations that can slow the process, we remain committed to get every penny to every claimant who deserves benefits.”

The department’s application for FEMA’s grant program to provide an extra $300 to eligible unemployed workers will be resubmitted Thursday, after the federal agency requested more information. It won’t affect when funds will be distributed, which isn’t expected until October.

“I know that’s not what someone wants to hear who wants their money now,” Asaro-Angelo said at a press conference last week, noting the funds would come in a lump sum rather than weekly payment.

The grant is meant to temporarily replace the $600 federal benefit was available to anyone eligible for unemployment benefits and ran from April 4 to July 25. In New Jersey, workers received $8.4 billion in additional benefits over four months, according to Labor statistics.

The program, which was created by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump after Congress could not pass an additional package including unemployment benefits, would pay retroactive benefits for the weeks of Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. The state would subsequently apply for funding each week.

The state would face major hurdles if Congress creates a new supplement program, because “an entirely new program” is needed to process claims differently from the current infrastructure, and “it will not be easy or quick,” Asaro-Angelo said last week.

About $343 million was paid out in benefits for the week ending Aug. 29, bringing the total of federal and state unemployment payouts since mid-March to $14.7 billion.

A total of 1.5 New Jersey workers have applied for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus forced a near-shutdown of the state, forcing businesses to close their doors and furlough their workers. Of the 1.3 million who are eligible, about 96% have received payments.

The average benefit per applicant is about $11,400, the department said.

Facing a tsunami of applications at the height of the pandemic, the Labor Department has been plagued with technological issues and a massive backlog. There’s still thousands of people who haven’t received a payment since March, and others have reported inconsistent payments.

Of the more than 1.5 million workers who have applied for unemployment benefits, about 1.34 million have been deemed eligible. Of those, 96 percent have received payment. Tens of thousands are still awaiting payments, some as far back as March.

New Jersey workers who are eligible for unemployment may receive 60 percent of their wages, up to $713. Although the $600 supplement expired, the Labor Department continues to issue those payments for eligible claims for weeks ending April 4 through July 25.

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