Roughly 75,000 New Jerseyans have yet to receive new jobless benefits under an 11-week federal extension, state labor officials said Feb. 5 after former-President Donald Trump signed a bill at “the last possible moment” that extends a litany of federal COVID-relief programs.
“I know this is of little comfort to the residents who are anticipating these added benefits, and many have expressed anger with us over the delay,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Feb. 4 statement.
He assured during an annual COVID-19 press briefing the next day that those New Jerseyans should expect their payments by Feb. 12.
“Former President [Donald] trump signed the stimulus at the last moment, not giving states enough time to program the 11-week extension,” Asaro-Angelo said on Friday.
If Congress and Trump “had acted just weeks before the expiration date they knew was looming,” Asaro-Angelo said, “states would have had the time needed to keep benefits for some… it would have been seamless for all claimants.”
All told, 2 million people in New Jersey filed for unemployment since mid-March, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered sweeping business closures that would deprive the COVID-19 virus of any new potential hosts.
Between March and July, businesses such as restaurants, casinos, malls, gyms, salons, theaters and non-essential retail had to shut their brick and mortar operations entirely.
They’ve since been allowed to operate at reduced capacity, which business owners say has had a devastating effect on their finances.
All told, the state has paid out more than $22 billion in jobless benefits, which includes the fourth week of $300 payments under the latest iteration of the federal stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
But roughly 96% of claimants have gotten at least one payment, leaving tens of thousands of other people stuck with problems certifying for benefits or waiting weeks or months for a single paycheck.
“This is not a New Jersey-only issue,” Murphy said during a Friday COVID-19 press briefing, in reference to the disruption in the 11-week extension.
Roughly 533,000 New Jersey workers saw a lapse in their added weekly $300 because of similar computing issues, Asaro-Angelo said. But labor officials opted to prioritize sending out the added federal relief rather than the 11-week extension because it would benefit a larger pool of people, according to Asaro-Angelo.
The programming at the state and federal-level unemployment systems is rather complex. Asaro-Angelo said
He said that the original CARES Act requirement that claimants exhausted their initial pool of benefits, after which they are enrolled into the federally-funded but state-run system. With Trump’s last-minute passage of the CARES Act, that ultimately tripped the system.
“The claims that have been grounded are those we had to stop from moving onto extended and paused while we reprogrammed them to continue onto the 11 weeks,” he added. “They are now automatically going onto the state-extended benefits.”
Federal labor data has shown several weeks in a row of decreases in weekly unemployment filings.
There were 12,398 filings for the week ending Jan. 30, according to Thursday data from the federal Department of Labor. For the week ending, Jan. 9, there were 21,833 jobless claims, according to data from the state Labor Department that day.
Under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, the federal government would expand the weekly payments from $300 to $400 and extend them through September.
The federal unemployment program for freelancers and part-time workers would be extended until September, as would eligibility for an added 13 weeks of federal jobless benefits. All these programs expire in March, under the existing CARES Act extension.
That measure was approved in the U.S. Senate early Friday morning by a slim margin without the support of any Republicans. It now heads to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.