(The Center Square) – Tired of not receiving a response at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, a state resident showed up outside of Gov. Phil Murphy’s Friday news conference complaining that he had been out of work for two months and was frustrated.
Murphy, in response to hearing about the disgruntled resident, acknowledged there is a “tsunami” of folks looking for their unemployment benefits.
The number of unemployment claims filed each week is declining after reaching a record high of 214,846 for the week ending April 4, compared to just 9,467 claims filed the week ending March 14. More than $2.78 billion has been paid since the coronavirus pandemic led to massive layoffs.
“We are chopping through this,” Murphy said, adding his “heart breaks” for those still trying to file their unemployment claims.
New Jersey’s Labor Department says it's had the same problem as other states – an antiquated computer system that wasn’t designed to handle the large increase in claims. The state made some improvements that Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said helped.
But the problem is not a glitch in the system, Asaro-Angelo said. He attended Murphy’s Thursday news conference for the second time in a week to discuss the situation. The large number of claims, some from contractors and self-employed residents, have challenged the system.
“Imagine if every VA hospital was told that tomorrow, in addition to veterans, they must immediately start accepting any patient who was ever in the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or any kind of uniform,” Asaro Angelo said. “In the short-term it is obvious to see the challenges and delays as it poses to its typical traditional patients.
But the situation is getting better.
“Through upgrades and improvements, nearly 140,000 more claimants are being made newly eligible,” Asaro-Angelo said. “This includes 82,000 claims that may have been pending for weeks due to non-monetary appointments, Social Security issues, and those stuck due to lingering certification response errors.”
The department has hired more people for their call centers and introduced a chat feature on their website in hopes of answering questions and expediting claims.
The New Jersey Senate passed a bill Thursday that permits civil service employees to transfer to other departments during a state of emergency. Senate President Steve Sweeny told media outlets the bill will allow some of those employees to help the Labor Department.