Why extended (and increased) unemployment benefits may be slow to come to N.J. (and everywhere else)

The news that Congress has passed a bill that will extend unemployment benefits that were scheduled to expire at the end of the year is great for those out of a job. As is the fact that the bill will increase those benefits by $300 a week.

But there are two issues that are threatening to delay both of benefits.

For one, President Donald Trump is threatening to veto the bill, saying overnight Tuesday that he is unhappy about the fact the individual stimulus check (which everyone will receive) is just $600. He’s pushing for $2,000.

And, while the general belief is that some sort of deal will be worked out, the other issue may not be as easy to rectify.

Simply put, any change in unemployment benefits require rules and regulations — and instruction — from the federal government.

Restarting the supplemental unemployment benefit program that ended in July is not an easy task — nor is extending payments to March 14.

Federal pandemic benefits are due to end Saturday for about 500,000 New Jerseyans.

Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. (File photo)

Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, said his office cannot implement these changes on their own.

“We are grateful for any additional help that is on the way for our workforce, who are in such dire economic straights due to the pandemic, but we must caution New Jerseyans these benefits won’t be seen immediately,” he said. “The bill will take time to implement once the states receive the rules from the federal government.”

Once the bill becomes law, the state Labor Department will then be required to wait for directions on how and in what order to distribute these new funds, Asaro-Angelo said. Only then can it implement the programming for these benefits.

It’s uncertain how quickly the federal government will issue the rules to the states. Asaro-Angelo encourages New Jersey residents to visit the DOL’s page (click here) for updates.

New Jersey is not alone in this predicament. It’s why the National Association of State Workforce Agencies issued a statement pleading for help.

“Millions of Americans are in desperate need of immediate assistance due to the pandemic, and we strongly encourage the USDOL to provide states the information and guidelines needed as soon as possible,” the statement said. “Once provided, states will be working night and day to ensure these new benefits are available in an expedient manner. States will be communicating with claimants as funds become available.”

For updates on unemployment:

State Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo encourages New Jersey residents to visit the DOL’s page about unemployment.

Among the recipients of the extended benefits in the new bill are regular unemployment claimants as well as those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, such as self-employed, gig and part-time workers, who are typically not eligible for unemployment.

The bill would also restart the FPUC program for all claimants, but at a level of $300, rather than the original $600, per week through March 14.

Asaro-Angelo said the DOL stands ready to administer these new benefits to New Jersey’s workforce as quickly as possible.

As of mid-December, the department has distributed $20 billion in benefits to underemployed and unemployed residents. Approximately 1.85 million unemployment applications have been filed since mid-March, when COVID-19 forced schools and businesses to shut or greatly reduce their hours or capacity.