Lawmakers push to fix flaws in New Jersey unemployment system COVID-19 exposed
New Jersey lawmakers are now advancing a series of bills that would beef up the state’s Department of Labor and mandate a more effective dispersal of unemployment benefits.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed flaws in the state’s system. In just one week in April 2020, 200,000 people filed new unemployment claims. And the system was not able to keep up.
“Saying there has been a surge of claims is literally the understatement of the century,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at the time. “We’re doing everything we can.”
At the time, the Department of Labor counted 600,000 people in New Jersey who were collecting unemployment.
“They expect to go through the backlog by the end of the week and then it will be a normal, as you go, reality,” Murphy said.
But by the end of that month, the state hit a high of 15.8% unemployment.
Thousands of New Jersey residents waited for their full unemployment claims. They were the victims of old software, overwhelmed staff and bad communication.
“Sometimes I will just start to cry because I don’t know what to do. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” Bloomfield resident Vickie Plummer told News 12 New Jersey.
Some people are still waiting for their benefits, even though Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo said his department performed well.
“I doubt any group of state workers has been as effective and productive as our UI agents these past two years,” Asaro-Angelo said in March 2022.
The most recent unemployment rate in New Jersey is 4.2%.