Thousands of New Jerseyans will get another 20 weeks of unemployment benefits under a bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy last week, according to a Thursday statement from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
That could provide some level of relief for the nearly half a million New Jerseyans that could see their unemployment benefits dry up at the end of the month if Congress and the White House do not hammer out a new COVID-19 federal relief package.
More than 1.8 million New Jerseyans filed for unemployment since March due to the pandemic and resulting widespread business closures meant to stop any large gatherings of people where the virus could find new hosts.
When the executive orders to close businesses went into effect then, jobless claims surged to 214,836 filings for just the first week of April.
They’ve slowly crept back up since Thanksgiving – 15,951 the week ending Dec. 5 and 13,546 the prior week – according to federal labor data.
As of Thursday, the state Labor Department paid out nearly $20 billion in jobless benefits.
“We have an obligation to make sure that New Jerseyans can stay afloat during these extraordinarily challenging times,” Murphy said last Friday.
Labor officials warned that over 487,000 New Jerseyans dependent on jobless aid from the federal government could see those benefits expire on Dec 26 unless Washington comes to an agreement on a new relief package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
That includes 312,000 freelancers, independent contractors, part-time workers, and self-employed New Jerseyans that receive benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, who’ve gotten a combined $2.4 billion since the start of May.
A second program, known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to an estimated 175,000 New Jerseyans, the Labor Department added. The state distributed over $1 billion through that program since the first checks went out the week of June.
“We know how much this is going to hurt New Jersey families just after the holidays, so we remain hopeful new federal legislation will be enacted to provide much-needed relief to our state’s workers and small businesses without delay,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement.
The 20 weeks of extended benefits are meant to alleviate at least some of the anxiety for New Jerseyans dependent on PEUC assistance. It kicks in once a claimant has exhausted the base 26 weeks. Combined with the 13-week extension, a claimant could get just over a year of state and federal unemployment assistance
“While we desperately need the federal government to step up, we’re doing our part to help working people weather the storm,” Murphy said last week.
The proposed CARES Act will come in at roughly $908 billion and include aid for businesses, and subsidies for specific industries hard hit by the pandemic.
Talks have stalled over whether the package should include liability protections for businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits – backed by Republicans – and federal assistance for state and local governments, which is sought by Democrats.
Now, according to media reports, the White House has pushed for the bill to resume the $600 in weekly federal unemployment relief checks, which expired at the end of July.