New Jersey paid out some of its lowest levels of unemployment aid last week, reaching those not seen since the pandemic began to take hold of the state in early April.
That’s due to the lapse in an added $600 in federal unemployment relief, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce development, that was phased out at the end of July after Congress and the White House were unable to agree on a replacement.
For the week ending Aug. 22, the state paid out $316 million in jobless aid—unemployment aid to New Jerseyans hasn’t been that low since the week ending April 11, when the state paid out nearly $296 million. That’s compared to high-points from the start of the summer, like the week ending June 6, when the state paid out $1 billion of jobless aid, most of it from the added $600.
In the short term, the Murphy administration filed its application with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an added $300 a week in jobless aid, an amount they argue is paltry compared to what New Jerseyans actually need.
“While we will take whatever steps are necessary to get as much federal assistance to unemployed New Jersey workers as possible, the FEMA program provides half the benefit and only to a fraction of unemployed individuals and families struggling under the weight of this continuing pandemic,” New Jersey Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement.
Data released that same day from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that 19,360 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment last week, compared to 25,417 the week before, which ended Aug. 15.
All told, 1.5 million New Jerseyans have been out of work since March 16 due to the outbreak, which has triggered record-high unemployment, mass shuttering of businesses and steep drops in consumer spending.
Since March, the state labor department has paid out $14 billion in jobless benefits, more than $8 billion from the federal unemployment supplement.
As of Aug. 22, $4.4 billion has been paid by the state in its own unemployment benefits, $1.2 billion from a program meant for freelancers and independent contractors who’ve lost work during the pandemic, $375 million from a federal unemployment extension and $37 million from a state-level unemployment extension.
Roughly 1.3 million residents are eligible for jobless aid, and 96 percent have gotten at least one payment. That leaves roughly 52,000 New Jerseyans who haven’t gotten a single payment. Gov. Phil Murphy, when asked about that figure at press conferences, has declined to comment, arguing remaining cases are too specific to offer any generalized insight.
Under the FEMA supplement, 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, as did the majority of participating states.
“Our state can’t afford the $1.75 billion it might cost” for the additional $100, the labor commissioner said Thursday.
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 nearly 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.