The state Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced Tuesday it has made a series of moves — everything from upgrading computer technology to adding personnel and boosting phone capacity — to get unemployment claims processed faster and customers’ questions answered quicker.
The announcement came on the same day the department announced it is sending out the first batch of $600 checks that will come as an addition to regular unemployment benefits.
Here is a list of the measures that have been, or are about to be, implemented to improve customer service at the department:
- The first batch of supplemental unemployment payments has processed and distributed, getting an extra $600 into claimants’ pockets. Some 258,062 unemployed residents are seeing this money in their accounts, beginning Monday, for a total of $154.8 million in payouts.
- Some 166,000 residents — more than 60% of those waiting for an agent to review their unemployment application — have had their claim processed, thanks to updated information technology programming. This enabled these applicants to receive a quick determination of their eligibility. Going forward, this same percentage of claims formerly requiring an agent review will be entered directly into the system as a /result of this significant upgrade.
- Hundreds of laptops have been delivered and configured and hundreds more are arriving this week, allowing additional claims agents and support staff to work from home, which will speed processing time for claims requiring agent review, and allow more staff to triage customer questions.
- A document explaining the benefits process for independent contractors and freelancers will be posted on the DOL website, guiding this group through the process to collect their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments as soon as possible. This will reduce a significant volume of phone and email inquiries.
- An intelligent automated reply to emails has been deployed so that, whenever someone sends an email, they receive a reply specific to their inquiry directing them to the appropriate FAQs, pin reset or solutions to other common questions. This will relieve stress for customers who have been waiting for an email reply and provide them with steps they can take on their own.
- The capacity of the call centers was expanded to provide additional inquiry lines. Prior to this upgrade, tens of thousands of callers were met with dead air or a dial tone, because the system was beyond its capacity. This is no longer happening. Additionally, more callers are able to provide their information over the phone.
- An automated pin reset function has been developed, which eliminates a common reason for applicant calls.
- The Appeal Tribunal has been set up to conduct virtual appeal hearings, alleviating delays for customers who were denied unemployment benefits and are appealing the decision.
Gov. Phil Murphy, at his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, preached patience — and reminded residents that all benefits will reach those who are entitled to them, regardless of how long it takes.
The number of jobless claims is far higher than New Jersey has ever experienced — 576,904 New Jerseyans applied for unemployment in the three weeks starting March 15. After the first week of the pandemic, the number of new claims jumped more than 1,600% from the week before COVID-19 struck.
Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said he understands the frustration of those who have yet to be paid.
“I feel it in the pit of my stomach for every worker’s claim we haven’t gotten to yet,” he said. “We are paying benefits to nearly 300,000 New Jerseyans, but that is of little consequence if your claim isn’t one of them. Our entire staff empathizes with your frustration and uncertainty. That’s why we have been working around the clock to find solutions to common problems weighing on the system.”
Asaro-Angelo said he feels the infrastructure upgrades will help.
“The unceasing efforts of our Division of Information Technology and Unemployment Insurance staff, coupled with the assistance of the Office of Information Technology staff, have enabled us to reconfigure our legacy computer systems to serve more customers than ever before,” he said. “They have been working nonstop since the pandemic struck New Jersey, and I want to thank them for their commitment to getting benefits to everyone who deserves them as quickly as possible.”
Murphy and Asaro-Angelo both noted that workers cannot choose to collect unemployment benefits if employment is available. A worker who voluntarily quits a job is ineligible for unemployment.
Murphy said there are more than 50,000 jobs from more than 650 essential employers posted online at covid19.nj.gov.