Last week, New Jersey joined just about every other state in applying for an additional $300 a week for many of its unemployed residents from the federal government.
Under the pandemic aid CARES Act, the nation’s jobless had received an additional $600 a week. That put unemployment benefits above what many people had made working, prompting economists and many in Congress to wonder if it would discourage a return to work.
That extra benefit expired at the end of July, and in the absence of a new added jobless benefit from Congress, President Trump ordered that some federal disaster relief funds be used to give each unemployed worker an extra $300 a week.
Initially states were told that they had to put in $100 a week for their workers themselves, bringing the total to $400. Later that was clarified to count a state’s regular unemployment benefit, so as long as jobless workers are collecting at least $100 they’ll qualify for the extra federal $300.
Just two states have chosen to follow the original federal recommendation at bring the total added benefit up to $400. Financially struggling New Jersey isn’t one of them, of course, nor should it be as it borrows billions to pay its current expenses. Paying the $100 would cost it an estimated $68 million a week.
FEMA is expected to quickly approve the added benefit for New Jersey’s jobless for the first three weeks of August. Weeks after that will require the state to reapply and get ongoing approval.
The state Department of Labor said qualifying jobless recipients probably won’t be paid the extra federal benefit for August until October. As a new program, implementing it “will not be easy or quick,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asara-Angelo.
Indeed. Many applicants for regular state jobless benefits have been waiting months — first to finally get a state worker to communicate with them and fix their problem in the state’s automated claims system, and now for supervisory personnel in Trenton to accept the corrected claim from their workers. We bet the state workers who rushed into the benefits system with furloughs in July — just in time to get the extra federal $600 a week — didn’t have such problems or delays.
The extra $300 may not last long. Trump’s order specifies that it will end before FEMA’s disaster relief fund drops below $25 billion. With Hurricane Laura having just hit the Gulf Coast, the program may not last as long as hoped.
Too bad, since New Jersey has recovered only about a third of the several hundred thousand jobs lost in the pandemic. A new U.S. recession is still young, and New Jersey is already recovering more slowly than 35 other states, according to MoneyGeek.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature couldn’t reasonably have been expected to do much better against a novel virus that hit New Jersey and neighboring New York City quick and hard. But their years of fiscal irresponsibility that continue today have ensured a much worse than normal economic convalescent period from the pandemic.