As the COVID-19 pandemic hits the one-year anniversary of the first case in New Jersey, more than 100,000 New Jerseyans will have been out of work for a year largely because of the mass closures meant to keep the spread of the virus at bay, according to state labor officials.
That’s far above the “few thousand claimants” on any given non-pandemic week that have been receiving jobless aid for the entire year beforehand.
“[B]eginning in mid-March, more than 100,000 claims will hit the one-year mark each week, due to the spike in unemployment filings that occurred as COVID-19 shuttered schools and businesses the year before,” reads a March 3 statement from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
More than 2 million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment in the past year because of the pandemic, and the state has distributed over $23 billion in state and federal jobless benefits.
During the onset of mass business closures in March, weekly jobless claims soared to all-time record-highs. For the week ending March 21, 2020, there were 155,815 jobless claims, followed by 206,253 jobless claims the week ending March 28 and 214,836 claims the week after that. Unemployment soared to an all-time record-high of 16.6% in June, though the rate stands at 7.6% as of January.
Sit-down dining, casinos, salons, sports stadiums, theaters, gyms, malls and former forms of non-essential retail had to shutter their doors during the first wave last spring, driving up unemployment. They’ve since been allowed to operate at reduced capacity.
Now Congress has less than two weeks to act on a landmark COVID-19 relief bill, before many federal jobless benefits expire. President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion package, which passed the House of Representatives over the weekend.
More than 100,000 New Jerseyans are dependent on these federal benefits, such as jobless aid for freelancers and part-time workers, and a 13-week extension of unemployment assistance, could end up losing that relief.
Biden agreed on Wednesday to limit who can receive the $1,400 stimulus checks in order to get the bill out of the U.S. Senate and onto his desk, according to various media reports.
For now, a new set of programming the state Labor Department is using will automatically review claims from those hitting the one-year mark, rather than require claimants to manually fill out the paperwork to continue receiving benefits.
The system will either extend their benefits or file a new claim depending on the scope of their income changes in the past year.
“This new programming will enable us to complete the mandatory review of year-end claims on a large scale,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a March 3 statement. “Our goal is for this to be seamless for most claimants.”
Claimants do not have to file again, Asaro-Angelo continued, and in fact doing so could snag the system for those claimants and in turn delay the payment of any of their benefits.
The state’s beleaguered computer system, reliant on decades-old technology, has been faulted for many of the delays and red tape for people to get their jobless aid.