Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans collecting unemployment aid could likely be spared of a lapse in jobless benefits if President Joe Biden signs a federal relief package in the coming days.
Currently, more than 100,000 New Jerseyans are dependent on 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.
Those were signed into law nearly a year ago by then-President Donald Trump as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. They expire for Americans between March 13 and April 11.
“If the American Rescue Plan is signed into law before current federal benefits expire on March 13, most New Jersey claimants will transition seamlessly to those extended benefits,” reads a March 11 statement from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Congress approved the $1.9 trillion package on March 10, sending the landmark stimulus to Biden’s desk. The president and many Democrats argue that the bill is vital to help transition the nation from the pandemic to a post-COVID economy.
It includes $350 billion of state and local aid, of which over $10 billion could go to New Jersey and its municipalities. There are $1,400 relief checks and an added $300 of federal unemployment relief in the package.
And there are tens of billions of dollars for industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as restaurants, funds to bolster the national vaccination efforts and money for the state’s hospitals.
“This is a big positive deal for New Jersey,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a March 10 COVID-19 press briefing. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said in a March 10 statement that the relief measure “helps New Jersey in many ways, providing vital aid to those impacted by the pandemic.”
Joblessness soared over the past year, as non-essential businesses were forced to close for months on end, and then operate at reduced capacity, all in a bid to starve the COVID-19 virus of any new potential hosts.
Sit-down dining, casinos, salons, gyms, malls and former forms of non-essential retail had to shutter their doors during the first wave last spring, but they’ve been allowed to operate at reduced capacity.
All told, more than 2 million people filed for unemployment over the past year, and the state has dolled out nearly $24 billion in federal and state jobless benefits. Roughly 100,000 New Jerseyans have been out of work for the entire pandemic.
Last week, 8,711 people filed for unemployment, according to figures posted March 11 by the federal labor department.
That’s a far cry from the 155,815 jobless claims for the week of March 21, 2020, when the state was put into a virtual lockdown and the entire economy ground to a halt.
There were 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.
Officials at the state Labor Department said that they had to scramble to update their computer systems because of Trump’s last-minute approval of the CARES Act. That led to delays in the $300 checks going out, and weeks where 75,000 New Jerseyans enrolled went without any financial assistance, according to the Labor Department.
The agency has been plagued by delays and computer errors, which has resulted in many claimants waiting weeks or months for their checks.
“My worry is that if Congress does not enact long-term relief before the current benefits expire workers across the country will face another lapse in benefits, which would devastate too many households,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Feb. 11 statement.