In Brief

300K workers move to N.J.’s unemployment benefits after federal programs end

By: - September 16, 2021 7:00 am

New Jersey has recovered 62% of the 717,000 jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic, still 276,000 jobs short of where it was in February 2020, a new report says. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than 300,000 workers who relied on pandemic-era unemployment benefits before they expired were automatically moved to the state’s extended benefits program this week, a state official said.

Of the roughly 500,000 people who were receiving unemployment payments until Sept. 4, about 310,000 claimants are now receiving the extended benefits, said Thomas Wright, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Labor.

Another 94,000 people had already exhausted their extended benefits, leaving them unable to collect after losing the emergency federal payments, according to the Labor Department. Unemployment claims with fewer weeks of eligibility have fewer weeks of extended benefits, Wright said.

The extended benefits program, which adds an additional 13 weeks to state unemployment benefits at times of high unemployment, was triggered on July 1. Typically, jobless residents can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment checks in one year.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate stands at 7.3%, tied for fifth highest among the nation.

When the sudden closure of businesses in March 2020 sent unemployment rates skyrocketing, the federal government created three programs — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and PEUC — to residents who aren’t typically eligible for benefits and increase payments.

Claimants who were eligible for the state’s extended benefits automatically transitioned. Their claim status should read “extended unemployment benefits” if they qualify.

People who were relying on PUA, like gig workers and freelancers, won’t qualify for extended benefits. Claims from before May 12, 2019, also are not eligible.

When emergency federal unemployment benefits ended on Sept. 4, Gov. Phil Murphy said he would not extend them using state funds. Murphy said continuing the $300-per-week benefit would cost the state $314 million weekly.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Labor Department has paid out more than $34.4 billion in state and federal benefits.

The state has recovered roughly 60% of jobs lost since March 2020.

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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.

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