In Brief

Some in-person unemployment services might start in 2022

By: - November 2, 2021 6:55 am

Exterior of 225 West State Street in Trenton, Office of the Governor. Photo by Mary Iuvone

By the end of November, all state offices are scheduled to be open, including New Jersey’s One-Stop Career Centers. But those centers still won’t offer services for people seeking help with unemployment — until some point in 2022 at least.

Gov. Phil Murphy said there’s no timeline for when those services begin, or what they will be.

“Obviously we want to do it right, but sooner is better than later,” he said at a Monday press briefing.

In a letter state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo sent to lawmakers, Asaro-Angelo says his department “hopes that based on our claimant numbers and other factors, we will be able to provide in-person UI services at some point in 2022.”

Some of New Jersey’s jobless residents who have had trouble reaching state workers on the phone to resolve claims have tried getting help at the state’s career centers, though a Labor Department spokeswoman has noted to the New Jersey Monitor that the centers offered few unemployment services prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Once the deluge of new claims flooded the Department of Labor at the height of the pandemic in March 2020, all services were handled over the phone or online.

Murphy conceded that for people who have been struggling to get their claims resolved, it would be meaningful to get face-to-face time with a Labor representative.

“I think there’s comfort in, ‘I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me,’ and you’ve got an unemployment issue that’s weighing heavily on you and you’re frustrated,” he said.

Currently, the career centers that are open are offering meetings by appointment for career help.

The governor commended Asaro-Angelo for planning to phase in unemployment services at the centers, but Murphy said he doesn’t believe in-person meetings would necessarily speed up problems with the claims.

For 19 months, unemployed residents have reported problems filing on the state’s website, trouble getting someone on the phone, and missing unemployment payments. Many have said they’ve tried to resolve their claims by calling the state’s unemployment call centers, only to be told to call the next day. Some say they can never get through. 

“If you’re out there and you’re frustrated right now, and your claim has not been resolved, I have sympathy with that,” he said. “Therefore, I’m frustrated as well.”

Lawmakers have admonished Murphy for delaying the opening of state offices, stressing the importance of offering in-person unemployment services for struggling residents.

“If they were in their offices, people would answer the phone. People have been calling for months, going back into 2020, and it just defies logic how broken the system is,” state Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) told the New Jersey Monitor previously.

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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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