A bipartisan bill to require the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to assign unemployment claims handlers to legislative district offices and partisan offices during the COVID-19 epidemic passed the Senate last week.
The bill, which appropriates $1.8 million for the effort, now heads to the Assembly for consideration. It would require the claims handlers to remain in the offices for six months after the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Senate bill 3505 was introduced March 9 — about a year after the pandemic threw record numbers of New Jerseyans out of work. From the start, residents reported great difficulty getting through to unemployment claims representatives and many went months without being able to collect any funds.
Atlantic County was hit particularly hard as the closing of casinos put tens of thousands out of work and gave the county one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation — at one point exceeding 30%.
In May, State Senator Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, asked the state to invest $50 million of its $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act funds into the technology upgrades and increased staffing of the unemployment system, to resolve problems preventing thousands of people from getting the help they needed.
“My office has heard from hundreds of people in our district, and beyond, who need help with unemployment claims. They come to us out of desperation, after weeks of waiting, days of calling, and hours spent emailing seeking answers,” Singleton said at the time.
Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, said his office has had up to 15,000 open cases of unemployment problems from his constituents at a given time.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, and State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, have also said their offices are swamped with calls for help from people desperate for help getting their benefits.
Primary sponsors of S3505 are Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union, and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and local senators co-sponsoring include Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Ocean, Sen. Len Connors, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, and Sen. Dawn Addiego, Burlington, Camden, Atlantic.
The state reported this week that 10,441 new unemployment claims were filed in the week ending March 20, a small fraction of the record-breaking week of April 4, 2020, in which 214,836 New Jerseyans filed new unemployment claims.
Polistina criticizes Mazzeo on state debt
Republican candidate Vince Polistina criticized Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo this week for voting in favor of a plan to take on $4.2 billion in new state debt, which was successfully pushed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Murphy had argued the borrowing was necessary because his administration in June predicted a shortfall of about $4.2 billion in revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But state revenues came in higher than the year before.
Polistina asked Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, to follow the lead of Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and apologize for his vote to approve taking on the $4.2 billion in debt that tuned out not to be needed when state revenues came in higher than last year’s.
Sweeney told the New Jersey Globe he now regretted supporting the borrowing.
Mazzeo’s campaign declined to comment Sunday about whether Mazzeo agrees with Sweeney.
Mazzeo team signs on in support of women’s health care
Mazzeo and Democratic running mates Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick, signed on in support of 28 Democratic women lawmakers in the state, who recently condemned Jack Ciattarelli for not supporting funding for women’s reproductive health care organizations that advocate for abortion.
“I wrote the law that restored Chris Christie’s devastating cuts to women’s health care in New Jersey,” Mazzeo said in a written statement. “We allocated over $7 million in funds to restore the cuts instituted by the former administration because access to healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and women’s access to healthcare should not be a partisan issue.”
Cleanup in Little Egg
LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Candidates for Little Egg Harbor Township Committee Gabriel Franco and Shaun Moran are hosting a volunteer cleanup at the end of Great Bay Boulevard — known as Seven Bridges Road to locals — from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on April 11.
A press release from their campaign said it is a continuation of last fall’s cleanup, when more than 25 people helped to collect trash and debris.
Water, gloves, and bags will be provided, and a limited number of t-shirts will be available to volunteers who register for the event in advance by emailing info@LEHUnited.com.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post: