Despite hundreds of thousands of residents now without an added $600 in federal jobless aid, and a new state surge in COVID-19, a sigh of relief came last week when New Jersey saw a record-low level of unemployment claims since the pandemic’s onset in mid-March.
Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that 15,845 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment last week, which ended Aug. 1. The week before, ending on July 25, a total of 28,073 additional residents filed for jobless claims.
The previous lowest number of claims in a given week on record was for the week ending June 6, when just over 23,000 New Jerseyans filed for jobless assistance.
More than 1.4 million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment since March 16, when sweeping state shutdown orders went into effect in an effort to stamp out the spread of COVID-19.
In the 20 weeks since, New Jersey paid out $13.2 billion in federal and state jobless benefits, according to data from the state labor department.
The week of July 25 was the last that the additional $600 pandemic unemployment compensation was paid out to New Jerseyans, under the landmark $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Even still, roughly 685,000 state residents were paid out a combined $515 million in federal benefits last week.
Although measures enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy ordering businesses to close their doors, banning public gatherings and restricting most travel show many signs that they contained COVID-19, the conditions have led to one of the worst economic recessions in American history, and some of its highest unemployment rates – 16.6 percent in New Jersey as of June.
Roughly 1.3 million claimants for jobless benefits were deemed eligible for state aid. Of that, 96 percent have gotten at least one unemployment check, leaving 52,000 New Jerseyans who have yet to receive any aid from the state.
Many readers have contacted NJBIZ with woes over benefits that have not been paid out since they filed for unemployment months ago, with difficulties getting in touch with a live human being to handle their claims, or any one of a number of bureaucratic slow-downs.
“It’s an encouraging sign that initial claims took such a dramatic drop last week, but we’re not out of the woods,” New Jersey Commissioner for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday morning statement. “We are working day and night to make applying for and receiving unemployment benefits as seamless as possible.”
Talks to extend the $600 in weekly federal supplements have stalled in Congress, with Democrats and Republicans locking horns over whether the additional money should be continued at a flat rate, or continued as a percentage of worker’s weekly income.
“If Congress makes major changes to the $600 weekly supplement,” like through the kind of calculation proposed Republicans, then “workers across the country could be waiting months for the programming to be available to administer that new benefit at the state level,” warned Angela Delli-Santi, a spokesperson for the state’s labor department.
According to state labor data, New Jersey paid out $3.8 billion from the state’s own unemployment fund, $8 billion from the $600 CARES Act supplement, $969 million from a federal unemployment expansion meant for freelancers, independent contractors and self-employed claimants, $310 million from a federal extension to the benefits, and $17 million from a state extension of benefits.