Labor Department Commissioner Robert Assara-Angela said he remains behind on his actions against the state unemployment system and unfulfilled demands during more than a two-hour intensive interrogation Thursday at the Senate Labor Committee and Senate Majority Leader Theresa Ruiz.
Dissatisfaction with the Department of Labor and Labor Development reached a fever last week when the Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution calling on Governor Phil Murphy to immediately eliminate unemployment debts and reopen public offices.
Employees of the department did not fully return to personal work, and the process of submitting documents remained virtual.
Asara-Angela told the Unemployment Committee that agents will start helping applicants starting March 28 at the only career centers to help with appointment.
His department, the Assara-Angela Committee said, has always sought to help most people by paying the maximum amount of benefits in the shortest possible time, as the department’s staff assisted applicants virtually through online and telephone services.
That’s not enough, the committee members told him.
Senators sitting on the Labor Committee have told Asar-Angela about the many voters who have called their offices seeking help on unemployment claims over the past two years and hope to set up face-to-face meetings to help.
Senator Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen) said he had so many calls that he called his office a “companion” to the Department of Labor.
Ruiz (D-Essex) agreed that appointments starting March 28 were not enough.
“It’s hard for me to keep hearing the same number, the same thing and not have a bigger plan,” Ruiz said. “I ask you to do something else. I know you already have this preconceived notion in your head, which you think is imbued with facts, but we all get a completely different picture … what will happen, people who have dates, will disappear, and people who think the office is just open will show up. ”
Senator Anthony Buk (R-Morris) expressed similar concerns and asked Assar-Angela about his contingency plan to see if career centers would see a turnout similar to that observed at the Commission’s Vehicle Agencies in the summer of 2020, where hundreds stood in line.
Holidays in New Jersey:Murphy claims a “one year vacation.” Here are the payments that will be waived
If the centers are “soldered,” there should be a plan B, Buk said.
There is a plan B, Asara-Angela replied, but did not make it public. “Plan A will work,” he said.
Asara-Angela reiterated that his agents are productive, and said the Ministry of Labor has returned to personal work. He said some employees of the unemployment department are still working remotely due to construction in the department’s offices.
New Jersey School Budget:That’s what’s included in New Jersey’s $ 19.2 billion budget proposal for local schools
As for the backlog of claims, Asara-Angela did not name a deadline when his department will be overtaken, but said that “the numbers are going in the right direction.”
Last week’s resolution, which called on Murphy to immediately eliminate unemployment debts and reopen public offices to the public, was proposed by all senators present on both sides. They said further closure of the career centers “could lead to further economic harm to the unemployed and on a larger scale of New Jersey.”
New Jersey Budget for 2023:What’s in Governor Murphy’s New Jersey budget for 2023? Here are the highlights from his appeal
The resolution also requires the department to report unemployment statistics within 30 days, including the number of people waiting for claims, the average time required to complete the application, how much was paid on claims, the number of staff working on claims, the average the time that each employee spends reviewing claims, and all that the department deems relevant.
New Jersey was elected late last year as one of two states for Fr. a pilot project designed to alleviate the unemployment system and more accessible to use. The aim of the pilot program is to develop an unemployment claim system that “provides equal and timely access to unemployment benefits for workers who have the right to work, while eliminating identity theft and intricate rings of fraud that have plagued government systems throughout the pandemic.” .
Federal agencies have chosen New Jersey as a pilot program because of the high percentage of workers receiving benefits, close ties to the U.S. Department of Labor and the large number of applications – about 2.4 million – received since March 2020.
Katie Sobko is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. To get unlimited access to her work concerning the Governor of New Jersey and the political power structure, sign up or activate your digital account today.