N.J. DOL selected for pilot program to improve unemployment system

Program aims to fix initial intake procedure — but could eventually lead to systemwide modernization

New Jersey is one of two states selected to participate in the Claimant Experience Pilot, a program aimed at modernizing and improving the unemployment insurance system.

The program, which will begin early in 2022 in New Jersey and Arkansas, aims to improve a key part of the system: the initial intake.

U.S. Department of Labor and New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development officials said they want to make the initial application and claimant verification part of a single process that is easier to navigate — and part of an overall system that provides equitable and timely access to unemployment benefits for eligible workers, while rooting out identity theft and other fraud issues that have bogged down state unemployment systems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey is eager to participate.

“The pandemic shed a light on the challenges and shortcomings of the federal unemployment system,” he said. “With this announcement, New Jersey will be at the forefront of modernization and permanent, meaningful reform.”

The pilot, should it prove to be successful, could be the first step in a nationwide upgrade to the unemployment system. The need certainly is there.

Every state had issues with oversubscribed and somewhat outdated unemployment systems when they were flooded with claims at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Although these difficulties were often mistakenly attributed to computer system glitches, Labor officials said the issues most often occurred because of the web of complex federal laws and processes that required them to verify workers’ information, receive and review wage records — often from multiple parties and multiple states — verify identities, and make sure only those eligible for benefits receive them.

New Jersey was chosen to lead this national effort for several reasons:

  • The state consistently leads the nation in the percentage of unemployed workers who successfully receive benefits;
  • The New Jersey DOL has established a successful working relationship with U.S. DOL and the U.S. Digital Service;
  • The state has received an extraordinary number of unemployment applications (2.4 million) since March 2020;
  • The state found innovative solutions to paying benefits during the past 21 months, a time of unprecedented demand.

“No state was spared from the deluge of unemployment claims, nor from the difficulties of implementing numerous new federal unemployment benefit programs created to assist workers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said.

“Today, with resources from our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Digital Service, New Jersey is proud to join our counterparts in Arkansas to modernize and streamline the cumbersome unemployment system and pilot a model modular system for the entire country.”

In the past 21 months, New Jersey has distributed more than $36 billion in COVID-related benefits to workers.