Residents Still Awaiting Jobless Pay Despite ‘Fixed’ System

The New Jersey Labor Department said the transition to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program would be seamless for unemployment claimants, but many are still without pay after weeks.

(TNS) — The Labor Department claimed it would be a seamless transition for claimants switching to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program when the state triggered off of High Extended Benefits.

But John Flynn was one of the people the Labor Department’s programming mistakenly excluded from the transition, and he was unable to certify as his claim showed up expired. After a week, the department said the issue had been resolved and claimants should continue certifying during open hours.

And while he’s been able to certify, Flynn hasn’t gotten his money in over two weeks. When he opens his claim, which is “unpayable,” it states in red letters that no action is needed on his behalf.

“I hope I get backpay, but it’s more about the not knowing how long this will go,” said Flynn, a writer for an ad agency who was laid off in March 2020. “I’m stuck in this ‘claim not payable’ loop until I’m not sure when.”

The Labor Department “believes all of these claimants (that had been missed) can again certify for benefits without issues,” according to spokeswoman Angela Delli-Santi.

The state no longer qualified for High Extended Benefits once the unemployment rate average below 8 percent for three months. The Labor Department said it would automatically transition those people to PEUC, which was extended through Sept. 4 under the American Rescue Plan, and claimants wouldn’t have to do anything.

She would not say how many people continue to be affected by the programming problem, but said that whenever the volume of claimants that New Jersey has needs to transition to a new program, it’s possible the programming fails to capture everyone.

New Jersey claimants are no stranger to the technological hurdles in claiming unemployment benefits. Earlier this year, 75,000 unemployed workers went weeks without benefits due to a lapse in benefits and lag in creating new programs. And since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Labor Department has been flooded with unprecedented amount of claims which led to a backlog that still exists. Some people reported waiting more than a year for benefits.

Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo maintains the 54 independently functioning unemployment systems are to blame, and the constant changing of programs and guidelines due to federal mandates, he said during budget hearings.

Flynn argued it’s not just the fact that he’s gotten no money — he’s gotten no communication from the state Labor Department on what’s going on with his claim, especially after 14 months of the pandemic. He hasn’t received an email from the department since he first filed his claim at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and when it wasn’t payable for the first three weeks.

“If they say it’s a small subset of people, that means it should be easier to communicate with us,” he said. “I was hoping by the end of this week there would be a more specific statement about the specific problems, but they didn’t say anything about our payments being delayed.”

He said it’s frustrating to not be able to call the call centers, where the Asaro-Angelo says the staff has been tripled since the pandemic began. Flynn also reached out to his U.S. senator, state senator, and assemblyman.

“It would be easier if they just came out and said it would be six to eight weeks and people can try to plan knowing there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel,” Flynn said, adding he wants some clarity.

Delli-Santi said the department is “very sorry” when this occurs and that staff tries to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

“We know claimants rely on these benefits to replace part of their income, and we strive to be as responsive as possible to all our claimants’ needs,” she added.

The Labor Department also updated the claim status page Monday to show what benefit people are receiving and the remaining balance to help claimant understand where they are in the process, Delli-Santi said.

Adam Kaufman, an in-house personal trainer who stopped working at the beginning of the pandemic, echoed that he’s received very little information about what’s affecting his claim, which suddenly stopped April 10.

Kaufman receives Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), so he shouldn’t have been affected by the High Extended Benefits switch. But the timing lines up, he pointed out, and he had the same issue that his claim came up as expired.

“It leaves me very uncertain about what happens now. And because I haven’t filed the claim, I don’t know if my claim lapses and what will happen,” he said. “It makes me anxious because I really don’t know what’s happening.”

When he tries to call the unemployment office for more information, the recording says PUA claimants can’t be helped by the unemployment agents. He filled out a form on the NJ.gov website but received an automated response without any information about how to fix his claim.

He suggested the Labor Department should communicate better with claimants on their Twitter feed, which tweets out the weekly unemployment numbers. Each tweet has dozens of replies from claimants whose payments suddenly ceased.

While Kaufman has some money saved up for bills, it won’t last longer than three or four weeks.

“The most important thing from my point of view is to provide us with information. We need answers. They don’t know the anxiety surrounding all this, and I have no choice but to sit here in this weird limbo,” he said.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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