KIYC: Outdated tech, overwhelmed staffers slows New Jersey’s unemployment response

New Jerseyans out of work due to COVID-19 are finding it impossible to claim unemployment benefits because of obsolete government technology and staffers overwhelmed by the volume of calls.

News 12 Staff

Apr 9, 2020, 12:05 AM

Updated 1,467 days ago

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New Jerseyans out of work due to COVID-19 are finding it impossible to claim unemployment benefits because of obsolete government technology and staffers overwhelmed by the volume of calls, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds.
"I cannot reach anybody," says Sandra Pierre, of Little Falls.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, we’re probably in the negative triple digits," says Nick Genito, of Clifton.
They're just two of the unemployment applicants frustrated by a system that's letting them down.
"In the past two weeks, I’ve probably aged five years," says Steve Estok, laid off last month from an environmental remediation job in Camden County. He says, "I worked hard my whole life, [but] now that I finally need something, I can’t even get it."
Many feel the same way. Everyone who spoke to Kane In Your Corner say they tried to file online as advised by the state, but either received messages telling them they had to speak to a representative or the system would not accept their claim.
"When I get to the part where it says send or submit, it just won't go, it won’t go through," says Larry Trussell.
"You get many errors in the system trying to do it," says Phil Batista, of Union Beach. "And unfortunately the errors don’t let you get past that point."
In a briefing over the weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy admitted the state's unemployment system depends on computer technology that's decades out of date.
"We have systems that are 40-plus years old," Murphy said. "And there’ll be lots of postmortems. And one of them on our list will be how did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers."
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development tells Kane In Your Corner it estimates about 50% of filers are told they cannot file online and must call a representative for assistance. Many callers say that is nearly impossible.
Photos: Your Coronavirus Pandemic Experience
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"It says there's no one to answer the phone, call back tomorrow," says David Wisniewski. "And I've gotten that answer every day."
"I’ve called in the mornings, I’ve called in the afternoons, I've called in the evenings," says Michelle Cox. "The result is the same."
Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo says "We’re adding phone lines and have trained employees from other divisions to help us field calls. We have procured hundreds of additional laptops so more staff can work remotely."
Applicants tell Kane In Your Corner they understand that state workers are overwhelmed, but say they need something to change quickly, because they're overwhelmed too.
"They need to get on the ball here with this whole program," says Mary Ellen Rankl, who's been unemployed since October. "Because there are a lot of people hurting beside me."


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