On the heels of the CDC’s new mask guidance and in the waning days of the pandemic, New Jersey Republicans have targeted the state’s Department of Labor (DOL) for legislation requiring face-to-face services
State Sens. Holly Schepisi (R-39) and Michael Testa (R-1) introduced legislation that would require state employees to work in person if their job requires face-to-face interaction with the public.
Meanwhile, a separate Assembly bill introduced by Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25) would require the DOL to reopen all facilities for in-persons services.
DOL offices, alongside one-stop career centers, have been closed since March 2020 when the public health emergency was first issued in the state.
The State Senate bill (which has a companion bill in the Assembly) would require DOL and other state employees to return to work if their jobs require in-person interaction with the public.
State agencies would be required to announce plans for employees to return to their posts for “the duration of the public health emergency and state of emergency declared on March 9, 2020 by the Governor, pursuant to Executive Order No. 103 of 2020, and as extended.”
Additionally, state agencies leaders would need to provide reasonable alternatives that are consistent with federal and state laws in the case of temporary closures.
“I have heard from so many constituents who have been waiting months to get their unemployment payments. These delays are indefensible and have significantly impacted thousands of New Jersey families,” said Schepisi. “Trying to settle claims online or via email clearly has not worked.
Dunn’s bill would require DOL offices to reopen to the public regardless of the services offered were face-to-face. The bill would require DOL to fully staff all public-staffing offices at all times.
“Even prior to the pandemic, the career centers have been operating with dated equipment and few case workers,” said Dunn (R-Morris). “The coronavirus was the unexpected crisis that made us realize that our unemployment system is inadequate, antiquated and failing to serve those most in need.”
Since March 2020, the state has received more than 2.1 million applications for unemployment benefits and distributed more than $28 billion to Garden State workers.
“Virtual services may not be as accessible for elderly clients, low-income clients, or clients with disabilities,” added Dunn. “Additionally, there are still claimants who are being denied payments, because they cannot get in touch with someone at the Labor Department to rectify the issue. In-person services would solve a multitude of problems and promote more effective communication.”