As I sat and talked Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo Thursday night, a year after the pandemic devastated New Jersey's economy and threw millions out of work, a few things became painfully clear: A lot of people are still hurting. They are frustrated. They are angry. The system is broken. Answer your phone.

New Jersey has distributed more than $34 billion in benefits to more than 2 million New Jersey residents. While new jobless claims have dropped four weeks in a row, unemployment remains at historic levels and the road back will be long.

"It would be a mistake to think the workforce has rebounded," Asaro-Angelo warned.

Using an antiquated computer system that was never designed to handle the volume of claims produced by the pandemic, Asaro-Angelo was candid in addressing the many issues faced by tens of thousands of New Jersey workers who exist in a state of limbo over their clams.

The vast majority of claims have been resolved but the small percentage that remain require hands on attention. More complicated claims need a review by a senior claims adjuster. When the pandemic hit, there were only a handful of such specialists. Today, there are 127. It's still not enough.

Many of the systems have been automated, and more will be in the coming weeks, and that will help resolve claims more quickly. Still, the system is overwhelmed.

Asaro-Angelo says one of the biggest challenges is contacting claimants during the review process. They can only act on the information provided. An email that can end up in a spam folder. Snail mail that gets ignored or lost. Phone calls that go unanswered. Claims adjusters DO actually try to call you. Unfortunately, many adjusters are working from home and when people see an unknown number on caller ID, they refuse to answer.

Due to the sheer volume of people begging for us to help them with their claim, helping everyone during a half-hour program was impossible. We selected a handful of cases that had been brought to our attention since the start of the pandemic. While each claim is unique, they were chosen in hopes of giving others with similar cases a path to resolution. With their permission, we shared their information with the Department of Labor, who worked to resolve the issue and share details with our audience. A large number of the people we contacted told us they had already had their claim resolved.

None of this matters, of course, if you have been waiting weeks or months for your claim to be resolved. Frustration turns to anger. In some cases, individuals have lashed out with threats of violence. Toward Asaro-Angelo and his staff. At one point, extra security had to be brought in when someone managed to get a hold of the personal information of a staffer.

This anger was also very visible in the Facebook live chat.

Nothing he is speaking about is helping out any of the people out here not receiving their benefits. The system is broken. Why?

Obviously, more people need to be hired by unemployment to meet this immense need by desperate people!!!

I really hoped this would answer some of my questions but I am just confused

Eric, you usually get answers, what happened? We got nothing tonight! Mr. Asaro-Angelo is completely out of touch with what we are going through. So frustrating!

Unemployment is useless. Hope you guys really fix this. It's pathetic and you should be ashamed of yourselves!!

He's talking nonsense. Sugar coating the awful administration

Asaro-Angelo hears you. He has been apologizing from the start. He's leading a team to try and make it better. They have made a lot of progress and resolved a record number of claims.

For those still waiting, he knows it's not good enough.

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