Some unemployed New Jersey workers say they were approved for benefits several weeks ago — given weekly payment amounts, confirmation numbers and start dates — but have yet to see a penny.
And they are getting increasingly desperate.
“I applied March 15, and received paperwork saying I was approved for $417 a week, but I have not seen any money,” said Lindsey McCabe, of Somers Point, who was laid off March 12 from a full-time job in a dentist’s office.
The single mom receives no child support and has been without an income since mid-March, she said.
“Each week when I certify (online) … it generates an automated message, ‘Your benefits are not payable,’” McCabe said.
The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development Facebook page is full of comments from people saying the same thing.
“When do you expect to also fix the regular, non PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) claims?” asked Nicole Antreux McNulty on the Facebook page, in response to the Labor Department announcing April 29 it would begin paying claims to self-employed people who normally would not qualify.
The federal CARES Act extended benefits to them, but it took weeks for the state to get the guidelines in order to begin payments.
“My husband is going on week seven after approval, no payment, no way to reach anyone after hundreds of phone calls, emails and paper letters,” McNulty said. “Every week, it just says the claim is ‘not payable’ despite blue paper mailers saying he is approved.”
And the Facebook page Unemployed in New Jersey has countless similar stories.
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said his office is handling 1,000 unemployment complaints from county residents. U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew has said his office has 15,000 open unemployment issue cases from the eight counties in his district.
Trudy Hastings, 67, of Tuckerton has had a similar experience. She was laid off from her job as a licensed physical therapist’s assistant in Toms River, and applied for benefits March 16.
She, too, was approved for a specific weekly benefit, but is told her benefits are not payable when she certifies weekly.
“It says ‘email for help,’ but you just get an automated, generic response,” Hastings said. “There’s a glitch in their system.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has said the state is overwhelmed with historic levels of unemployment claims totaling 940,000 to date due to the COVID-19 pandemic business closures, and people must be patient. He has stressed everyone will get every penny to which they are entitled.
He acknowledged at Monday’s daily news conference that people could not access unemployment online over the weekend.
“The entire state system crashed,” Murphy said of the state website in total. “We understand the frustration. Stay at it.”
The unemployment site has crashed before, and Murphy has acknowledged it uses a decades-old computing system.
When asked to bring someone from the Labor Department to daily briefings, Murphy said that was a good suggestion. In the past, he has dismissed such suggestions.
“Maybe we’ll get Rob to come in for at least a cameo,” he said of Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo, the son of a former Atlantic City labor leader who has worked for unions as well as government.
The state Labor Department has said about 200,000 of about 300,000 who have applied and are not yet receiving benefits are self-employed, gig workers or independent contractors.
But that clearly isn’t the case for McCabe, Hastings and scores of people who have contacted The Press of Atlantic City with similar stories.
Hastings said her best friend’s son, who is a union worker, got his money within two weeks of applying, she said. It makes her wonder if some workers are being treated more favorably than others.
“I have emailed the governor, every senator and congressman and Assembly people,” Hastings said. ”I have worked my whole life, and collected once for three months 20 years ago. I’ve been working since I was 16 years old.”
What really bothers her is the way the system sends people in circles. If she gets through to Unemployment on the phone, a recording says to hang up and call a certain phone number for help, and it’s the same number she called in on, Hastings said.
McCabe said she got her federal stimulus check last month. And she had some savings. That has gotten her through so far. But now those extra sources of income are gone.
McCabe, too, has reached out to local legislators, who helped her fax information to the unemployment office. But she has still gotten no response.
Like thousands of other people around the state, McCabe calls each day to try to talk to someone, and has never been able to get through to a human being.
“I see the governor sitting on the news every day talking about the same thing over and over again,” she said of the medical side of the COVID-19 crisis. “When is someone going to do something about this?”