Unemployment benefits delayed in NJ yet again — NJ Top News 1/13
If you were expecting more unemployment relief this week, you'll wait a little longer.
The New Jersey Department of Labor is again struggling to process enhanced federal unemployment aid. An additional $300 per week was included in the latest federal pandemic relief measure signed into law before the end of 2020. Last week, Labor Department officials said the extra money would begin appearing in claimants' accounts this week. Now, they are citing "challenges in processing" those claims.
Since the pandemic closures plunged a record number of New Jersey residents into job losses, the Department of Labor has struggled to process claims. Multiple crashes of it's antiquated computer system and overwhelmed call center caused massive delays in processing benefits. New Jersey has taken steps to prop up the computer system and add more claims processors, but problems persist. The latest delays prompted another round of apologies and assurances.
In a statement to NorthJersey.com, a spokesman promised no one would miss any weeks of eligibility, and there were "still hopes to be able to distribute the payments this week."
Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly promised reforms and upgrades to the state's aging computer system. Former Gov. Chris Christie began that process before leaving office with a detailed technology report to the new Murphy administration. Murphy took no action for more than six months, finally appointing a chief technology officer in June 2018.
He tasked 35-year IT veteran Christopher Rein with upgrading New Jersey's systems. At the time of the his appointment, Rein boasted of his background in IT and cybersecurity and singled out the Department of Labor as a focus of his attention. Those reforms never happened, and as the pandemic hit and unemployment soared, the old systems could not keep up. At one point, the state had to put out a call for retired programmers that could still work with COBOL, the 40-year old computer language still being used by state systems.
New Jersey had not updated it's strategic plan for information technology since 2014. Rein put out an update at the end of the year, citing the pandemic creating an urgency for upgrades "to be enacted at a more rapid pace to serve our citizens' needs." The report acknowledges the Murphy administration failed to make needed upgrades to the state's computer infrastructure and "The need to modernize and upgrade our technology after years of delaying and deferring many of the necessary investments." The report lists "upgrading the government’s technology infrastructure" as Murphy's top priority.
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- More N.J. schools canceling winter sports.
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