Can’t get your claim through? And what about that extra $600? Labor commissioner offers answers

Robert Asaro-Angelo. (File photo)

If you’re one of the more than 600,000 New Jerseyans who has filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks, only to have run into problems doing so, take comfort in knowing a few things:

  • You’re not alone; approximately 50%of online claims do not immediately go through;
  • Your claim will go through; the Department of Labor & Workforce Development has extra people working to make sure that is the case — and you’ll get all of the benefits due you, backdated to your start.

And if you’re one of the folks who will file for unemployment in the coming days and weeks, know this:

  • The DOL has put out an extensive FAQ to help answer the questions you may have.

Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of labor & workforce development, explained all this and more during the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing Saturday.

He gets your frustration, he said. And he wants you to know his department — doing all it can without outdated technology — is working to make sure everyone is taken care of.

“We recognize this is small consolation when the bills are due today, but we are working on getting you help as fast as we can,” Asaro-Angelo said.

The following is a modified Q&A that ROI put together to help explain some of the issues. Asaro-Angelo’s comments have been edited for clarity and content.

Q: What do I have to do make sure I get the additional $600 from the federal government?

A: Nothing. It will come in a separate check. When, is not as clear. Last week was the first week for which these benefits applied, but the DOL still is awaiting federal guidelines. The good news: New Jersey is ready to process these claims once they get federal approval.

Q: Why is my claim getting held up — and requiring a claims examiner?

A: A person may be filing for the first time and did not provide all the required information or already had an old account in the system. A person may be temporarily furloughed. They may feel confused about the federally mandated work search questions on the unemployment application or they are independent contractors who have been told to apply while we await federal guidelines and how to administer benefits to this unique population.

Q: How overworked is that staff?

A: Imagine a stadium with 10,000 seats, but there are a million people waiting to get it. There are only so many we can get through the gates at one time.

Q: Why doesn’t the DOL just hire more people to process claims?

A: I can’t hire somebody and say, ‘Come be a UI claims examiner.’ The knowledge and the training you need for that is extensive. I’ve been the commissioner for two years and even I am not qualified to do that job.

Q: I get a note that says my claim did not go through and that I should call. But I can’t get through on the line. Am I stuck — is my claim not being handled?

A: No. We have staff specifically assigned to handle these cases. They will get fixed and they you will get all of the benefits you are entitled. We’re pinpointing places where claims are getting stuck and using all the department’s resources to reroute those claims so we can pay them as soon as possible.

Q: Can we ask about the extra $600 again? You’re sure there’s nothing more we need to do?

A: There’s nothing anybody has to do. As of right now, it’s going out as a separate payment. We’re good to go. We’re good to make the payment. But, until the feds say, ‘OK, go ahead,’ we can’t make that payment. I’m hopeful that we are going to be the first state to get that in people’s pockets, because our systems are ready to go.

Asaro-Angelo said the DOL is doing everything it can to make the process easier.

“We’re adding phone lines that have trained employees from other divisions to help us field calls,” he said. “We have procured hundreds of additional laptops, so more staff can work remotely.

“We’re continuously updating our website, adding information in easy, plain language to walk our customers through the application process. We know this is new for a lot of people, so we’re trying to make our clunky old applications as user-friendly as possible.

“We have put out helpful guides so our customers can feel secure they’re applying for the right program, which also speeds their processing.”

Asaro-Angelo said the department is trying to ease anxiety.

“We’re working to make sure our customers have the information they need from us to understand what is happening every step of the way, so they won’t have to worry about their benefit application, their benefit amount or waste time trying to get through on the phone,” he said. “We have our staff working overtime, late hours and on weekends to move claims along that need agents’ review.”

Most importantly, Asaro-Angelo said everyone will get what they are due, no matter when the application gets through.

“I can’t stress enough how much we have to empathize with the frustration, fear and economic uncertainty that comes with suddenly being unemployed,” he said. “Due to the high volume of claims being filed, there may be a delay in processing the back date. But they will be paid for each week they’re eligible for benefits, no matter when the claim gets processed.”

Asaro-Angelo suggested applying online during off hours, such as first thing in the morning or later in the evening, when traffic is lightest, may help.

But, again, he knows this is only a small help for those in need.

“I want everybody watching to know that our department is working harder than ever before to address the hardships many of you are facing due to this pandemic,” he said. “Our staff is in our office or at home working remotely right now because this is the biggest emergency our department has ever and hopefully will ever face.”

Conversation Starter

To read the Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s FAQ, click here.

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