N.J. celebrates launch of easy-to-use online Unemployment Insurance application process

Seemingly no one took more heat during the pandemic than Department of Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo — who was unfairly blamed for trying to make an outdated system handle an unprecedented number of unemployment applications at a time when everyone was stressed.

Asaro-Angelo kept his cool.

In fact, he and his team did such a good job under those trying circumstances that New Jersey was one of the first two states selected to participate in the Claimant Experience Pilot, leading a national effort to modernize the federal Unemployment Insurance system to improve the claimant experience and streamline the delivery of unemployment benefits.

Robert Asaro-Angelo. (File photo)

On Tuesday, the state joined the federal government in an announcement that marked the successful launch of a new online Unemployment Insurance initial application — one that has been completely remodeled with the goal of improving user accessibility.

The new application incorporates several upgraded features to streamline and enhance the user experience, including:

  • The ability to save and pause the application to finish later;
  • Availability in English and Spanish;
  • Maximized accessibility for assistive devices. A mobile-friendly format enables the application to be completed on a phone, tablet or computer. As many as 50% of people apply for benefits using a mobile device, and more than 70% of people who access the application in Spanish use a mobile device;
  • Revised questions to make it easier for claimants to understand and answer accurately;
  • Removal of 19% of questions to make finishing in one sitting more likely;
  • A new landing page relevant to a claimant’s current situation and next steps.

Gov. Phil Murphy estimated the new system will save claimants hours — while making it easier to get the benefits they are entitled to receive.

The governor thanked Asaro-Angelo for his efforts during the pandemic — and his efforts in helping to bring a modern system to the state.

“I remember sitting in press conference after press conference, many of them with Robert Asaro-Angelo, three and a half to four years ago, talking about that day that we would ultimately have the technology that we need to take the Unemployment Insurance system into the 21st century,” he said. “That day has arrived.”

Asaro-Angelo credited the governor, his administration, the Legislature, his team at the DOL and the federal government for its support — then and now.

“Modernization isn’t just about upgrading technology, it’s about improving the process across the board, particularly our communication with claimants, rewriting dozens of emails and notices to be plain language,” he said. “… So, kudos to our state Legislature for collaborating with us on claimant-friendly improvements to help (create a) smoother process, but also make more workers eligible.

“Importantly, we’ve worked with these pieces, maintaining a human-centered focus, meeting our claimants where they are, sitting side by side with New Jerseyans, and they tested the new application and provided their feedback. And then, all of our community partners and stakeholders who helped connect us with these test users. With a modular, agile system. We’re making targeted improvements where they’re needed now. And we’re setting ourselves up for future success by building a new base infrastructure adaptable for continuous improvements.”

The benefits will be felt every day, Asaro-Angelo said.

“During the pandemic, we saw just how outdated this system was,” he said. “It wasn’t built for a national emergency. But, anytime someone loses their job, it’s an emergency for them, their families and their community.”

Acting U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su said New Jersey showed why it was selected as one of the first two states to modernize.

“Thanks to strong and bold leadership, New Jersey is now building one of the most innovative and modern Unemployment Insurance systems in the country,” she said. “By spearheading a more modern and reliable Unemployment Insurance program, Gov. Murphy and Labor Commissioner Asaro-Angelo are setting a national example for how to make sure unemployment benefits are easily accessible for workers who have hit hard times and are looking for reemployment.”

Murphy said he was thrilled.

“I am proud that the USDOL trusted New Jersey to be at the forefront of efforts to modernize our Unemployment Insurance application, creating meaningful reform that can be replicated across the country to the benefit of countless individuals and families,” he said. “New Jersey has established itself not only as a staunch supporter of our workers, but also as a budding innovation hub.

“It is fitting that this endeavor utilized innovative and cutting-edge strategies to ensure the timely and efficient delivery of Unemployment Insurance benefits to claimants. Nothing should stand in the way of New Jersey residents accessing critical unemployment benefits to make difficult times more manageable.”