New Jersey will sign onto President Donald Trump’s $300 weekly federal unemployment relief program, the governor and labor and workforce development commissioner announced Wednesday, following earlier confirmation from several administration officials.
Under that plan, states can opt in for $300 a week from the federal government, and kick in $100 on their own for a total of $400. New Jersey will opt out of the latter contribution.
“Our state can’t afford the $1.75 billion it might cost” for the additional $100, Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said at the governor’s COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday afternoon in Trenton.
Nearly 1.5 million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment since March 16, when the government enacted a slew of sweeping shutdown orders in a bid to stomp out the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic-triggered business closures have ravaged the state budget and led to some of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.
And the $300 “does not go far enough,” like the previous $600 pandemic unemployment assistance would have, the labor commissioner added.
According to Asaro-Angelo, the state’s application to participate with the program will likely be submitted and approved in a matter of days, but checks to up to 800,000 unemployed state residents could take much longer to come through.
“It will not be easy or quick to get this additional money into the pockets of those who need it most,” he said.
Money will be deposited as a one-time, lump sum of up to $900, according to Asaro-Angelo, for the weeks of Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. Subsequent applications will be for an individual week’s payment, but the commissioner warned that a large swathe of New Jerseyans might not see any money until October.
It will not be easy or quick to get this additional money into the pockets of those who need it most.
— Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo
That’s because of a rather complex set of rules from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor, which both oversee different aspects of the program. On the stateside, New Jersey is limited in what resources within its unemployment-benefits apparatus it could use to process applications for the additional $300.
“I know everybody wants money now,” Asaro-Angelo said. But, “[n]o USDOL unemployment administrative funding can be used for this program.” Rendering enormous parts of the state labor department’s resources unusable, the commissioner said.
Like the rest of the nation, there would only be enough funding for between seven and nine weeks of added $300 payments, Asaro-Angelo said.
New Jersey residents, and the country as a whole, were previously receiving $600 a week in added federal unemployment aid, but that expired the week ending July 31 after Congress and the White House hit a stalemate over the next iteration of a COVID-relief package.
“We continue to ask President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell to reauthorize the $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit that expired last month,” the governor said. “We must support our residents in need.”
Many residents who received that supplement would not be eligible for the new $300 program, the commissioner said, because the scope is much narrower for what’s considered a COVID-related reason that someone might lose their job.
The new funds utilize dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $44 billion Disaster Relief Fund. Known as “Lost Wages Supplemental Payment Assistance,” 32 states have signed into the program, including New Jersey’s neighbors: New York and Pennsylvania.
Asaro-Angelo assured that New Jersey wasn’t “in a race with other states” for a limited pool of funds.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:56 p.m. EST on Aug. 26, 2020, to include additional remarks and information from Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily COVID-19 press briefing. It was updated at 3:20 p.m. EST to clarify that New Jersey will not be opting in for the $100 state contribution.