NJ unemployment offices still closed? Cut their salaries, lawmaker says
With many New Jersey residents continuing to complain bitterly about stalled unemployment insurance benefit applications, a group of South Jersey lawmakers announced a plan to try and force the state Labor Department to open all One-Stop Career Centers for in-person assistance.
State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said he is introducing legislation next week that specifies all One-Stops must be opened by March 1, “otherwise the personal pay of the Department’s top leadership should be cut and used for a new fund for unemployed workers.”
He said the measure stipulates if Labor Department offices are not opened, “the total compensation of the commissioner, deputy commissioner, assistant commissioners and the department’s chief of staff should be reduced by 5% every two weeks until all closed state unemployment offices are reopened.”
Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said New Jersey unemployment offices were all phased out in the early 2000s, and only One-Stop Centers have remained open to the public, although most of them have been closed for in-person assistance since the pandemic began.
He pointed out in certain instances, the One-Stops are helping people struggling with unemployment problems by appointment only.
Testa said the situation has become more than ridiculous, stretching more than 700 days since the start of the pandemic.
Asaro-Angelo has noted most assistance is now taking place online and on the phone because many more claims are able to be processed that way. But Testa said there “hundreds upon hundreds of constituents still calling my office each and every week looking for help with their unemployment claims.”
Why are unemployment office workers still at home?
“Why can’t the Department of Labor employees be back in person?" Testa asked. "This is an utterly failed system where Department employees continue to work from their couch and get paid every two weeks. This is not working.”
Testa said it’s outrageous that thousands of New Jerseyans have been completely shut out while “the people at the Department of Labor have been paid every two weeks, never missed a paycheck, and have been able to work from home for two years.”
“They are in this echo chamber where they are slapping each other on the back telling each other what a great job they are doing when they have failed New Jerseyans,” he said.
He added many New Jersey residents live paycheck to paycheck, and this kind of inattention and delay is not acceptable.
He said his staff, which has been fielding thousands of unemployment-related calls for months, continues to speak with people in person every day.
Testa, along with Republican Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen are jointly sponsoring a measure that will be formally introduced Monday..
A spokesperson for the Labor Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.