Federal unemployment benefits ended for half a million New Jerseyans over the weekend, after Gov. Phil Murphy declined to use money from the White House to continue paying out the aid.
Murphy, on Aug. 30 – just before Hurricane Ida slammed into the Northeast, said that to do so would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: $314 million per week and up to $1 billion each month.
“The proper way to extend federal UI benefits is through federal action, not a patchwork of state ones. And it should be noted here that no state is extending this benefit beyond Sept. 4,” Murphy said.
Another 250,000 New Jerseyans receive benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to non-traditional workers such as freelancers and sole proprietors. And 190,000 people receive a 13-week extension under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
Those both also expired over the weekend.
To extend PUA could cost between $70 million and $161 million a week while extending the PEUC would cost between $77 million and $124 million a week, state officials estimated.
“New Jersey has continually used every program and tool in our arsenal to get as many benefits to as many claimants as quickly as possible,” reads a Sept. 2 statement from state Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.
“We understand these federally enhanced benefits have been a lifeline to our workforce and our economy during these trying times. Our department and our state will continue to support those in need, and assist those looking for work,” he said.
Certainly, there are other aid programs for families and workers still hurting from the pandemic.
There’s state-run health insurance which offers low or no costs to residents, a job board with postings from more than 1,600 New Jersey businesses, and thousands of free online training courses for new skillsets. The state runs a rental assistance program for those families making less than 120% of their county’s median income, as well as utility assistance.
Many businesses and conservative lawmakers have lamented the $300 as a primary driver for the labor shortage that has affected the restaurant, leisure and retail industries since COVID-19 restrictions on businesses were mostly lifted in the spring.
Murphy, and other labor rights figures, contend that the added $300 plays a role in that shortage, but that it nonetheless is one of many reasons New Jerseyans have been hesitant to return to work. Those seeking career advancement, lack of access to child care, and concerns about health and safety during the pandemic were other reasons typically cited.