N.J. career centers set to reopen after prolonged closures

Without an appointment, residents won’t be able to enter the career centers

By: - October 15, 2021 8:28 am

The Labor Department stressed the centers are not intended to help people with unemployment claims. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

New Jersey’s one-stop career centers, which can be a lifeline for the state’s jobless, are set to reopen Monday when state employees are scheduled to return to their offices.

Some lawmakers worry the centers may see lines of people hoping to get unemployment claims settled, even though the centers are not equipped to handle those issues.

“Bright and early Monday morning, they’re going to be there trying to figure out what the problem is and get the money they need,” said state Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic). “I have a horrible, sinking feeling it won’t work.”

Angela Delli-Santi, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department, which oversees the career centers, stressed in an email that they are not intended to help people resolve unemployment claims.

“One-stop career centers ARE NOT NOW, NOR HAVE THEY EVER BEEN, unemployment offices. They are RE-EMPLOYMENT centers, designed to help residents enter or re-enter the workforce, or change careers,” she said.

No one will be allowed into the one-stop career centers without a previously scheduled appointment, she added.

Unemployment claims skyrocketed in March 2020 as businesses closed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of filings backlogged as the Labor Department struggled to keep up. While the department has distributed more than $30 billion in jobless claims, thousands of people still report issues filing, verifying their identity, and receiving payments.

New Jersey has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation at 7.2%, down from a peak of 16.6% in April 2020.

Corrado said her office is still dealing with dozens of unemployment claims dating back months. State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) said his office recently helped close a case that was open for more than 400 days.

“It defies logic. This is a pandemic, people are turning to government for help, and the fact is there’s no excuses anymore,” said Corrado, pointing out most legislative offices have been open since April 2020, in part to help resolve unemployment claims.

The career centers serve people with significant barriers to employment, including workers with disabilities, residents with criminal records, or people with little to no work experience, Delli-Santi said.

Throughout the pandemic, she said, employment services were still provided virtually and over the phone, noting the agency had “remarkable results during that time, serving thousands of career seekers.”

Corrado said the fact that centers won’t cater to unemployed residents who need help solving their claims shows the disconnect between the Labor Department, and is clearly a part of the “broken system.”

“These are unemployment offices, no matter what they call it,” Corrado said. “If they turn one single person away next week, the Labor commissioner should be held accountable for this mess and be fired immediately.”

To make an appointment, residents must call their local One-Stop Career Center to discuss skills and goals. They will then be scheduled for an online or in-person visit.

More than 550 state employees are expected to return to their offices Monday.


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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.