Unemployment data released by the state doesn't tell the whole story, KIYC investigation finds

A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story.

News 12 Staff

Jun 2, 2020, 1:14 AM

Updated 1,410 days ago

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Figures released by Gov. Phil Murphy recently show that nearly 80% of people who filed for unemployment in New Jersey since the COVID-19 pandemic began are now receiving benefits. But a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds those numbers don't tell the whole story.
After 10 weeks with neither a job nor unemployment benefits, Dana Brisbane says she is feeling the stress.
"There are times I go to bed and I’m concerned – will I have enough food to feed my family over the next couple of days," she says.
Brisbane has been out of work since March 17. She and her husband are struggling to support a family of five on just his unemployment benefits and the money their 16-year-old son has been able to earn mowing lawns in the neighborhood.
To hear the governor and state labor commissioner tell it, cases like the Brisbanes are the exception, as New Jersey plows through a backlog of unemployment cases.
"We have roughly 1.17 million New Jerseyans who have filed unemployment claims since this emergency began," Murphy said at a briefing last week. "Of that 1.17 million, 911,000 of these claims have been fulfilled, and residents are receiving their benefits."
But Kane In Your Corner found the numbers can be deceiving. Brisbane's case has never gotten beyond the "pending" stage. And according to the DOL's computer system, the case does not appear to be officially "filed." When Brisbane has attempted to certify, just to see what would happen, she has gotten a message telling her there has never been a claim filed under her social security number.
According to the statistics, Mike Taylor is one of the lucky 78% of applicants of unemployment now receiving benefits. But he doesn't feel very lucky. To date, he only received one payment of $231. He never received the $600 in supplemental federal unemployment and after the one state payment, he says the benefits stopped and future weeks were marked "not payable at this time".
And Angela Delli Santi, a spokesperson for the NJDOL, admits that paradoxically, claims marked "not payable" are often listed in the weekly statistics as "paid".
"Their claim has been reviewed and is 'filed,' no longer 'pending'," Delli Santi says. "They would be counted among the 911k (people) who have claimed benefits during the pandemic."
Delli Santi, however, contends the state is also dealing with many complex cases, such as applicants with wages in multiple states, and doing so faster than other states.
Those explanations are no longer acceptable to Michele Izzi, who runs the Facebook group, #NJ Unemployment Pandemic.
"We're beyond 'let's be patient,'” she says. "That's gone."
The group's 6,000 members share a litany of unanswered phone calls, unpaid claims and often unbearable stress, things that don't show up in any statistical report.
"Do you know how many times, Walt, that I’ve given out the 1-800 number to the suicide hotline?" she asks Kane In Your Corner rhetorically. "More than I can count. More than I count. This is inhumane."


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