Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic are facing the loss of their jobless benefits as soon as next month if Congress and the White House cannot agree on another relief package.
The House and Senate are considering President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion “America Rescue Plan,” but the debates have centered on who is eligible for the added $1,400 stimulus checks. With Democrats controlling both chambers, they can pass a package without Republican votes.
Under an extension of the COVID-19 relief package that then-President Donald Trump signed just before the new year, several unemployment relief programs will end sometime between March 14 and April 11.
Congressional Democrats are aiming to have a new bill signed before the cut-off date. Upwards of 11.4 million Americans could lose their benefits between those dates, according to a report released Feb. 10 by the nonprofit think tank The Century Foundation.
One key benefit is the $300 per week in added federal jobless aid, down from $600 under the original Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act. Biden has proposed an additional $400 a week.
Another benefit that expires on March 14 is the “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” program, which provides jobless aid to freelancers, sole proprietors and part-time workers. A third is an 11-week extension of unemployment assistance. Enrollment in that program is automatic, but like the other two programs, eligibility lapses at some point
Officials at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development 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.
Data released that day by the Labor Department showed that the total number of people who filed for unemployment since mid-March hit the 2 million mark.
State officials warned in December that if Trump refused to sign the CARES Act extension or delayed its passage, then as many as half a million people in the state enrolled in the 11-week extension or PUA program could be left without assistance.
The Century Foundation warned that at least 100,000 New Jersey residents could see a lapse in benefits between next month and April 11.
For the week ending Feb. 6, 14,624 jobless claims were filed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That week, the state distributed nearly $160 million from the $300 weekly checks, $83.3 million under the PUA program and $27.7 million under the 11-week extension.