Morristown, NJ

NJ Chosen for Federal Unemployment Improvement Program

Morristown Minute

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Morristown Minute

NJ is one of two states chosen for a pilot program focused on modernizing and improving the federal unemployment insurance program.

When the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the United States, unemployment skyrocketed and sent many workers scrambling to state unemployment websites to claim federal payments necessary to keep their finances afloat.

Many of these newly unemployed workers encountered roadblocks in receiving their checks due to inflexible technology being overwhelmed by masses of claims. State unemployment websites were held up in confirming unemployment benefits for many workers due to the web of federal laws complicating the approval of unemployment and pandemic relief checks.

Currently, federal laws require that state-run unemployment insurance programs verify a worker’s information, receive and review wage records (often from multiple parties and states), and verify the identities of workers in a required but separate and time-consuming process.

Those who find themselves seeking unemployment benefits run into a long list of complications in receiving their checks.

Many have been held up in the weekly certification system or identity verification process and as a result, had their claims frozen.

Often those seeking benefits were told they were ineligible but could not connect to a real person to discuss their case. Those who did get through were put on a waiting list often taking months to hear back from anyone.

Many who were successfully receiving benefits saw their payments inexplicably stop and were unable to remedy the situation.

The country currently has no nationwide or centralized unemployment system. Rather, there are 50 independent, state-run systems. Frequently changing rules for pandemic federal unemployment cause extreme delays as each of the 50 independent state systems are required to constantly update their systems to meet federal requirements.

Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo wrote a letter to New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation in September of 2020 saying, “the current system is inefficient and needlessly difficult to navigate, and it implicitly classifies some forms of work as less deserving of unemployment benefits than others.”

Despite the difficulty in navigating these federal unemployment systems, New Jersey has led the nation in the percent of unemployed workers who successfully received benefits. NJ saw 2.4 million unemployment applications since March of 2020 and “found innovative solutions to paying benefits during the past 21 months,” according to a press release from the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

In the last 21 months, New Jersey has distributed over $36 Billion in COVID-related benefits to workers. NJs comparable success is cited as a reason why the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Digital Services chose New Jersey to serve as a pilot state in the development of a modern and improved federal unemployment system.

The program, known as the Claimant Experience Pilot, is designed to create “equitable and timely access to unemployment benefits for workers while rooting out identity theft and other fraud issues that have bogged down state unemployment systems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Arkansas was also chosen as a pilot state for the developing program.

The Claimant Experience Pilot will start early 2022 and focus on creating a user-friendly system with an integrated identity verification component, which as of today is a separate, flawed, and time-consuming process.

What roadblocks have you experienced in your attempt to claim unemployment benefits? Let us know in the comments below.

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