Thousands of New Jerseyans still waiting for unemployment, months into the pandemic

Nearly five months into the pandemic, new figures show about 50,000 New Jersey residents who claimed unemployment benefits are still waiting for their first payment, while Kane In Your Corner finds an even greater number are awaiting back benefits.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development says since the pandemic started in March, an unprecedented 1.44 million people have filed unemployment claims. Of those, 1.25 million are now "claiming benefits.” And of the smaller figure, 96% have received at least one payment. But that still leaves 50,000 who have yet to receive anything.
Frank Dauria, a construction estimator, is one of them. He's been unemployed since April 8. He tells Kane In Your Corner he was recently scheduled for a telephone appointment on Oct. 7, almost exactly six months after his last day on the job.
"It's hard enough as it is now just to get food on the table," Dauria says. "There's no way we're going to survive to Oct. 7."
The NJDOL says those who have yet to receive benefits tend to have complex claims. Dauria had income in two states.
Michelle Izzi, who runs the Facebook group NJ Unemployment Pandemic, is part of a growing chorus of critics who say New Jersey should reopen its unemployment offices.
"You want teachers to go back to school in two weeks, in four weeks, you want kids to go back to school, but we can’t go to an unemployment office," Izzi says. "How does any of this make sense?"
By email, Angela Delli-Santi, an NJDOL spokesperson, responded, "Unlike at some other agencies, such as MVC, there is no difference in what an unemployment claimant can do in person vs. over the phone."
She said, "Unequivocally, opening in person will lead to less, not more, claimants being served."
In addition to the 50,000 people still waiting for benefits to start, Kane In Your Corner finds a significantly larger number, harder to pinpoint, are owed back benefits. That includes many of the approximately 333,000 self-employed workers who filed PUA claims. To date, all are receiving the $231 a week minimum payment. Their actual benefits have yet to be determined.
Delli-Santi notes "not all (independent contractors) will meet the wage requirement for an upward adjustment. We are working to automate the redetermination for the others, and anticipate the new programming being up and running soon. a