The bipartisan measure will make administrative changes to how unemployment insurance is paid out by expediting reviews of unemployment applications. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)
People seeking unemployment payouts should get them faster and employers will face more fines for not providing information to state labor officials under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy that will go into effect in about nine months.
The bipartisan measure will make administrative changes to how unemployment insurance is paid out by expediting reviews of unemployment applications. Harsher penalties will also be imposed on employers who don’t provide information about jobless claims within seven days to the Department of Labor — up from $25 every 10 days to $500 daily.
The law is one of several passed by lawmakers and signed by Murphy after the state faced heavy criticism for how it oversaw unemployment claims during the pandemic. Legislators say their offices became de facto unemployment centers for people who couldn’t get in touch with state workers to resolve their cases.
Under the law, people filing an appeal in hopes of a more generous payout will continue to be paid the initial benefit amount until the appeal is resolved, and the time to appeal a claim will be extended from 10 to 21 days. Currently, people appealing their claim typically don’t receive benefits until the appeal has been settled.
It also requires the state to provide claimants with options to speak with a representative within a “reasonable” appointment time.
Labor officials blamed their performance during the pandemic on the flood of jobless claims they received starting in March 2020, when state-ordered shutdowns led to a torrent of workers seeking unemployment payouts. A backlog of claims and quickly-changing federal laws led to some people not receiving payment for months.
Murphy conditionally vetoed the bill in September because it didn’t comply with federal standards and sent it back to the Legislature, which approved the changes Murphy sought unanimously.
One change included clarifying that overpayments paid under the federal CARES Act can only be waived if state unemployment officials find it was not the claimant’s fault that they were overpaid. Another change allows businesses to communicate with labor officials through non-electronic methods if they can’t communicate electronically.
The law goes into effect in 270 days — another change the governor requested to give the state more time to enact the changes.
“This law is a forceful response to the unacceptable processing delays and wait times that plagued the Department of Labor during a critical time of high unemployment during the coronavirus crisis. It will provide much-needed relief to claimants by expediting the determination and appeals process and by providing more options for claimants to speak directly with department staff to resolve issues,” Sen. Fred Madden (D-Camden), who serves as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said in a statement.
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