Stuck in the system: 33,000 NJ claimants still unable to receive unemployment extension benefits
It's been one month since the 11-week federal unemployment extension was enacted, but a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds 33,000 New Jersey claimants are stuck in the system, unable to claim weekly benefits.
The problem: their previous benefits expired one day before the extensions took effect. While the extension specifies there should be no lapse in benefits, the New Jersey Department of Labor is struggling to program the change into its 40-year-old computers.
"People are barely surviving on the little income they're getting from unemployment, and then it's just OK to stop paying anything for a month?" says Danny Blazas, a commercial electrician who has been unemployed since shortly after the pandemic began. "Our bill collectors don't want to hear that. Our kids are hungry, man. Something's got to give."
Jackie Werner finds herself in the same boat. Out of work since just before the pandemic - she says she's applied for 64 positions in the past 13 months - she moderates a Facebook page where many of the 33,000 claimants now waiting for extensions often vent their frustrations.
"There's people that can't buy their medication, little kids that need stuff," Werner says. "And they're telling me it's a date change. That's all they need in the system. I don't know what's taking so long. Nobody does."
Angela Delli-Santi, spokesperson for the NJDOL, says, "A small fraction of claimants… are seeing a delay while we reprogram the system."
Asked why the reprogramming was taking so long, Delli-Santi replied: "I reject the misleading premise of your question," adding, "To my knowledge, no state has begun to pay the extended benefits to this group of claimants. USDOL guidance came through just last week."
But the most recent USDOL guidance related to payment of extended benefits was actually released on Jan. 8. Kane In Your Corner also reviewed all 50 states. More than 15 said they were either already paying extended benefits to some claimants who had exhausted their prior benefits on Dec. 26, or that they planned to start doing so this week.
Danny Blazas wants to know when that might happen for people like him in New Jersey.
"If you do get through to anybody, they say, 'just sit and wait for an email'," he says. "And in the meantime, our kids are starving."