More than 577,000 New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 crisis shut down the Garden State a month ago.

The massive number of people filing UI claims has overwhelmed state phone and online systems and resulted in tens of thousands of frustrated and angry New Jerseyans who have not been able to complete their applications. But the state's labor commissioner says a number of significant steps have just been taken to help remedy the situation.

“We’ve made large improvements to our technology, as well as adding personnel and boosting phone capacity across the state,” said Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo said.

He said the highest percentage of calls have been from people waiting to talk to an agent to get their claims processed.  An automated system has processed more than 60% of those claims.

“So 60% of claims that a week ago were being told to talk to an agent, now do not need to speak to an agent, which will free up phone lines and phone time for claimants who still do need to speak to an agent," he said.

He said improvements to the Department of Labor email system are also being made, which will speed specific responses to the tens of thousands of emails that have been received.

Asaro-Angelo said the first batch of supplemental $600 unemployment payments has been processed and distributed to more than 258,000 claimants through the direct electronic benefit payment system.

He said more customer service workers are also being added.

“By Friday, we’ll have an additional 500 staff members of the Department of Labor who will be able to fully tele-work from home on government-owned laptops," he said.

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He also said the number of calls being made to the system has been cut because a document explaining the step-by-step benefits process for independent contractors and freelancers has been posted on the Department of Labor website.

“A large majority of the phone calls coming into our systems were from independent contractors and self-employed about this new federal program," he said.

“Every New Jerseyan who is eligible for these benefits will get every single penny that they are owed.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com