TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) has announced a series of steps taken, including the addition of new agency personnel, a boost to phone capacity, and upgrades to computer technology to process claims faster and answer customers' questions quicker. These come, state officials have announced, as record numbers of unemployment claims continue to flood the New Jersey Labor Department.
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 percent from the week before COVID-19 struck.
"I feel it in the pit of my stomach for every worker's claim we haven't gotten to yet," said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. "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."
Prior to the expansion of call center capacity provide additional inquiry lines, tens of thousands of callers were met with dead air, or a dial tone, because the system was beyond its capacity. The Department says this is no longer happening and more callers are able to provide their information over the phone. The number of new unemployment claims moving through the system without issue has increased with claims are being backdated to prevent anyone who has had trouble getting through from losing a week of benefits.
"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," said Asaro-Angelo. "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."
Additional step that have been, or will soon be, implemented by NJDOL include:
* The first batch of supplemental unemployment payments has processed and distributed, getting an extra $600 into claimants' pockets. An estimated 258,062 unemployed residents are seeing this money in their accounts 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. 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 our website today, guiding this group through the process to collect their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments as soon as possible.
* 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 Labor's FAQs, pin reset and solutions to other common questions.
* 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.
For more information on benefits eligibility, customers are urged to visit nj.gov / labor or click HERE.
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