Kane in Your Corner investigation exposes unemployment benefits that are ‘too good to be true'

The weekly unemployment stats announced by the New Jersey Department of Labor claim people receive unemployment benefits before they really do, a Kane In Your Corner finds.

News 12 Staff

Jun 5, 2020, 1:11 PM

Updated 1,412 days ago

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A Kane in Your Corner investigation finds New Jersey claims to pay unemployment benefits to more people than it really does, and Walt Kane is exposing the numbers that are "too good to be true."
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For Vickie Plummer of Bloomfield, calling the NJDOL felt like a full time job.
"I would start calling from 7:40 until they closed at 4:30, and I almost made myself crazy," she says. 
Plummer filed her unemployment claim on March 15. It's still unpaid.
After two months without unemployment benefits, Caroline Hernandez of Passaic is out of cash. She's stopped buying her blood pressure medication, choosing to use her dwindling savings on food for her son.
"Sometimes I want to cry," she says.
And John Polanco's been waiting for benefits since the middle of March. His claim just says "filed", his benefit amount is zero.               
"It’s incredibly frustrating," he says.
But those three families, waiting for benefits, also have something else in common. The state's unemployment figures claim all three have already been paid. In fact, week after week, Kane In Your Corner finds the NJDOL has been reporting unemployment numbers that are literally too good to be true.
Last week, Governor Murphy announced "We have roughly 1.17 million New Jerseyans who have filed unemployment claims since this emergency began.... 911,000 of these claims have been fulfilled, and residents are receiving their benefits."
But not all of those 911,000 residents have actually been paid. The state is saying that they are, prematurely. When unemployment claims arrive at NJDOL, they are assigned a status of "pending: When they are entered into the payment database, the status then changes to "filed". That's when the state reports the claim as having been "paid", even though no benefits have actually been handed out,
"We're not getting paid," Plummer says. " So I don’t know how they could possibly count that."
Angela Delli-Santi, a spokesperson for NJDOL, says when a claim reaches "filed" status, it means "the claimant is ready to claim benefits…Thus, that number includes claims that moved from pending to filed."
Kane In Your Corner requested data from NJDOL on the number of filed claims that were not actually paid, but the agency has not provided it. In the past, NJDOL Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo has said 93% of claims that reach "filed" status are paid within two weeks, with about 3% lingering for months.
Since, at the peak of the shutdown, the state was processing 200,000 new claims a week, prematurely reporting claims as paid would have allowed NJDOL to claim it was paying benefits to hundreds of thousands of people more than it really was. Even today, with new claims dropping to their lowest level in 11 weeks, the difference would be in the tens ot thousands.
Senator Declan O'Scanlon (R - Holmdel) says he is concerned by Kane In Your Corner's findings. 
"We now know by your reporting that it appears as if there’s certain folks who haven’t gotten their benefits yet, included in the paid numbers," O'Scanlon says. "This is no time for us to be misrepresenting numbers or giving people a false optimistic picture of things being solved faster than they are. We need to be honest."
O'Scanlon says he understands the Governor and Labor Commissioner have been dealing with "an unprecedented crush of cases" and even notes that he's found Asaro-Angelo to be "personally responsive", often returning emails after midnight. But neither, he says, excuses a lack of transparency.
"How many people fall into this category? And why aren't they breaking it out and telling people the story?" That's a problem," he says.


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