NJ’s advice for the jobless, such as: Say you’re looking for work
One of every 12 workers in New Jersey filed new claims for unemployment benefits in the second half of March – and that undoubtedly understates the number thrown out of work due to the coronavirus, as many still can’t get through to get help.
State officials have a few main pieces of advice:
Be patient, as the system wasn’t designed to handle this avalanche.
Don’t worry, as any unemployment benefits – including the extra $600 being provided under a new federal law – will be made retroactive, if needed.
And for those who are able to file claims, say you’re looking for a job – even if that’s not currently possible.
Gov. Phil Murphy said the state Department of Labor is doing everything it can to keep pace with overwhelming demand – a record 155,815 new claims the week ending March 21 and a new-record 206,253 new claims the week ending March 28.
“Meaning that in just the past two weeks alone, more than 362,000 residents have filed for unemployment. You no doubt saw the national numbers, also record setting,” Murphy said.
Nationally, nearly 6.65 million new unemployment claims were filed, double last week’s record. Compared with the 4.244 million employed in New Jersey in February, the two weeks of new claims amount to roughly 8.5% of the state’s workforce.
“We are also very cognizant that there are delays and backups in the system, and we urge everyone to please have patience and that your claim will be taken care of and you will not lose one penny of your benefits,” Murphy said.
Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said that people should try to file unemployment claims online, if possible.
“Clearly we are overwhelmed by the number of folks who are filing or calling. Our systems weren’t built for this rapid influx. It’s the same problem other states are having, as well,” Asaro-Angelo said in a Facebook Live event hosted by U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J. 1st District.
“We go from having a couple thousand calls a day to literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of calls a day,” he said. “The technology is not there to support that.”
Asaro-Angelo said that, unfortunately, not all claims can be handled exclusively online and require an agent’s intervention and that he knows people are frustrated.
“We’re a couple days backlogged on that, but we’re getting there,” he said. “And most importantly, if your claim has not been approved and certified yet, it will be backlogged to the first day you filed, the first day you were out of work.”
Asaro-Angelo said the backdating also applies to the automatic $600 a week in additional benefits that will be provided under the federal coronavirus law enacted last Friday.
“Everybody who’s earning unemployment or eligible for unemployment compensation this week will have that $600,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Whether or not they get it next week, it’s our full intention to have it in their hand next week, they will have it applied. So if they don’t get it next week, it will be doubled the following week after that.”
Asaro-Angelo said that to speed along benefits, those who are able to file a claim should answer ‘yes’ to the question asking if they’re looking for work.
“We’ve been trying to pre-message as much as possible with a big sign on our website – answer the question this way to make sure you get your money. Because generally, you need to be looking for work. But folks in this situation would probably say I’m not because I can’t,” he said. “We’re going to manually and basically fixing the answer for them.”
Murphy said people looking for work can check the state’s online job portal for openings listed by essential workplaces. He said that as of Wednesday, 44,000 were listed.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.