As a growing number of New Jersey residents are having their unemployment benefits locked, State Sens. Kristin Corrado and Loretta Weinberg called on the Department of Labor and the Murphy Administration to open up unemployment offices for in-person sessions.
Corrado (R-40) shared accounts of applicants saying claims have been flagged as fraudulent. After this flagging, they are asked to prove their identities online—but without in-person access, they are being directed to a non-functioning online system.
“The Department of Labor has bragged about identifying more than a quarter million fraudulent unemployment claims,” said Corrado. “I’m afraid some, maybe most of them are being held up without merit.”
Call to Open Offices
Weinberg added, “Instead of solving problems, the Department of Labor has only made things worse.”
Corrado compared the situation to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s processes, which allow for in-person transactions.
“There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able present their social security cards and photo IDs at unemployment office to prove their identity and have their payments released,” stated the GOP lawmaker.
Corrado noted many have spent years paying into the system, only to find they couldn’t get the money they needed during the pandemic.
Additionally, the ID.me system appeared to not work, and those who submitted identifying documents weeks ago were told to restart the process.
“Too many people who should be receiving unemployment payments are still being caught in a maze of bureaucratic ineptitude,” Corrado added. “If the Department of Labor was a business, they would be bankrupt. We cannot tolerate any more delays that prevent families from receiving the benefits they have earned.”
New Unemployment Claims Easing
The call for action comes as the number of new unemployment claims fell for a second straight week April 22. The total number was 10,534, down about 130,000 from the prior year at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey triggered off of federal High Extended Benefits which increased the duration of extended benefits from 13 to 20 weeks after its three-month average unemployment rate was reported at 7.7%.
For the week ending April 17, new unemployment claims declined 7% from the prior week.
Weinberg Wants Action
But for all of their accomplishments, Weinberg feels the state’s Labor Department can do better.
“People are angry. They have paid into the system for years, and now that they need the money, they can’t get it,” said Weinberg (D-37). “Residents who submitted their identifying documents many weeks ago are now being told NJDOL changed the fraud email portal and they will have to start all over.”
“They are going to go back into the queue and will be forced to wait for another month to six weeks for an answer. It is exasperating,” the retiring Democratic State Senator proclaimed.