The state’s labor department said it paid out 94 percent of the more than 1.2 million jobless claims filed since the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the state 100 days ago in mid-March.
Although the state’s unemployment rate is at historically high levels – 15.3 percent, the highest in New Jersey since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking state-by-state data in 1976 – new jobless claims have nosedived.
For the week ending June 6, 22,621 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment, according to Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The week prior, 26,752 state residents filed for jobless claims, and the week ending May 30, 34,410 filed claims.
Nationally, 1.5 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week.
At the onset of the outbreak, tens of thousands of businesses were ordered to close down brick and mortar locations by Gov. Phil Murphy. Only now, have restrictions been loosened and the stay-at-home order lifted, as the pandemic shows many signs of slowing down in the state.
On June 15, New Jersey will enter “Stage 2” of its reopening, which means restaurants and non-essential retail can resume on a limited basis.
As of June 11, the state paid out $6.2 billion in jobless benefits – $2.1 billion from the state’s own pot of money, and nearly $3.7 billion from the federal expansion outlined under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which includes an added $600 per week in benefits.
The state has $2.4 billion in its unemployment trust fund, after which it would have to borrow from the federal government, as was done over a decade ago during the Great Recession.
State Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo, at Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, said the state will submit an application by July 1 to the federal government to borrow a loan for its unemployment trust fund, which would be zero-interest until the end of 2020.
That $6.2 billion figure also includes $391 million from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which gives jobless benefits to independent contractors and freelancers who’ve found their work dry up amid the pandemic and ensuing recession.
The state paid out another $56.6 million from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment compensation, which provides 13 weeks of additional benefits to those who’ve exhausted their benefits leading into the pandemic.
There are roughly 70,000 workers in that boat, who’ve been notified that they can certify for PEUC benefits, of which 37,000 state residents have claimed them.
“There are fewer people to be unemployed in those sectors,” said Brandon McKoy, president of the progressive advocacy group New Jersey Policy Perspective, as to why the new jobless claims have plunged. “We have fewer people who are still in a position … to be unemployed right now.”
The unemployment system has been plagued with complaints about weeks of delays before jobless benefits are issued and outdated technology, Claimants have also been critical about difficulties with getting in touch with a live human being to assist with their claim.
A technical glitch over the weekend with Bank of America meant that many New Jerseyans saw days-long delays in the additional $600 provided by the CARES Act.
That issue has been resolved, though some individual banks might not have caught up with their accounting, Asaro-Angelo said on Thursday afternoon.
“On the one hand, we have achieved so many milestones since COVID-19 shuttered our workforce – serving more than 1 million claimants and getting three new federal benefits programs up and running while paying record numbers of our traditional unemployment claims,” he said in a statement earlier that morning.
“On the other hand, there is so much more to do to ensure that every claimant gets their questions answered and receives their benefits in a timely fashion.”