COVID-19: Unemployment claims hit over 1 million in New Jersey
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Over one million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of those, 700,000 people have received payments, said commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Rob Asaro-Angelo.
The department has fallen under harsh criticism from the 300,000 residents still waiting for unemployment benefits to make it into their bank accounts.
At today’s debriefing with Gov. Phil Murphy, Asaro-Angelo defended his department pointing to the last surge in the number of claims, after Superstorm Sandy, when claims topped 154,000 in total then.
“We are seeing 155,000 applications a week with COVID. We saw 45,000 a week with Sandy,” said Asaro-Angelo.
To date, New Jerseyans have received $1.9 billion in benefits.
He said of the 300,000 applicants still waiting, 150,000 came in over the last week, the others could be experiencing complications with processes such as the applicant not certifying the application, or not answering the certification questions correctly. Missing information, opening claims in multiple states, and social security numbers or bank account numbers being punched in incorrectly have also caused delays. And some employers are contesting some of the applications, he said.
“In a week, we had more than 4,000 claims that had the wrong direct deposit information,” he said.
Most of the claims do go through, with claimants receiving benefits within two to three weeks.
Tomorrow the department will launch a chat bot which applicants can use to get questions quickly answered. The call center and processing department will see an increase of 150 new employees, with more being called out of retirement.
Residents receiving benefits are required to fill out a questionnaire each week to certify their receipt of benefits. Asaro-Angelo said this too has been problematic with participants answering the questions incorrectly. For instance he said, claimants expecting to be called back to work following the shutdown or who were furloughed are to answer “yes” to the question: “Are you actively seeking work?”
“If any of the questions are answered wrong there will be a delay in receiving benefits,” he said.
In an attempt to aid in answering the certification questionnaire correctly and avoid delays, tomorrow the website will launch a step-by-step guide on filling out the questionnaire. Part of the certification process will now require the applicant to sign off that they have read it.
He described one department employee who said her hands are cramped and her legs are swollen by the end of the workday, but says it’s worth it.
“On more than one occasion she has cried with an applicant over the phone when their application finally goes through,” he said.
Hospitalizations fell below 5,000 for the first time in weeks and were at 4,996 last night, said Murphy. Two weeks ago, during what officials said was the peak, hospitalizations numbered 8,270. Last night, 1,470 were in critical care, down from the 1,549 reported Tuesday. And 1,107 were on ventilators, which amounts to about 75 percent of the critical care patients.
With an increase of 1,827 new cases, the total number of cases in New Jersey is now at 133,635. Today’s numbers were slightly up from the 1,513 new cases reported yesterday. But Murphy said the daily count is leveling off, the positivity rate of testing is decreasing and the doubling rates of new cases is slowing, most counties now showing a 30 or days of a doubling rate.
Officials reported 254 new deaths today, down from 308 reported yesterday. Deaths now total 8,801.
Patients entering the hospital last night numbered 325, fewer than the 439 the night before. Discharged patients numbered 460 last night, slightly more than the 435 discharged the night before.
On Thursday, Montclair township officials reported the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Montclair increased from yesterday's count of 382 to 386; the number of individuals who did not survive the illness remains at 44.
As of 9 a.m. Thursday, Essex County officials reported 162 new cases, the same number reported on Wednesday. County residents who have tested positive for the virus now number 15,215. The county reported 26 new deaths, up from the 25 reported yesterday. Essex County still leads in the number of deaths per county at 1,375. Essex County who tested negative now number 16,592.