Calls for NJ labor boss to resign amid unemployment failures
A New Jersey state senator is renewing calls for Gov. Phil Murphy's labor commissioner to resign.
Republican Sen. Kristin Corrado said all commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo offered was excuses when he testified before the Senate Labor Committee, and "what he should have offered was his resignation."
Corrado was referring to an often-tense hearing in the Senate on March 9, when Assaro-Angelo defended his office's handling of jobless claims during the pandemic.
Asaro-Angelo said, "I doubt any group of state workers has been as effective and productive as our UI agents these past two years."
In a statement, Corrado took issue with the testimony, and claims, "Every attempt to work with the Department of Labor to help desperate people access their unemployment benefits has been a total nightmare. They don't answer calls, they don't respond to e-mails, and they don't provide any helpful information."
During his testimony, Asaro-Angelo said that in 2019, each UI agent provided an average of about $23 million in unemployment benefits to 4,500 claimants. In 2020, that grew to $140 million per agent, paid to 9,600 claimants.
He claimed part of residents’ frustration is that about 20% of people who file claims for benefits aren't eligible – more than 400,000 in the two years since COVID hit. Others get tripped up in a system he concedes is confusing, especially for newcomers.
Corrado insists the commissioner is glossing over serious issues with residents who still have not gotten money they are entitled to.
“After two years, it still hasn't gotten better," Corrado said. "The online and phone-based claims systems still don't work for many people, and unemployed workers still can't walk into an unemployment office to get in-person help when everything else has failed."
New Jersey's antiquated unemployment computer processing system was never designed to handle the record number of claims triggered by pandemic shutdowns, leading to chaos in the early weeks of economic shutdowns. While there is evidence things have improved, there are still many who have been frustrated by the process.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed frustration with the labor department's performance and Asaro-Angelo’s responses to criticism.
Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, said during the hearing, "There's no expectation or no vision right now that this is ending any time soon."
Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz added, "I am begging you to do something different."
Republican Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, R-Bergen, has announced a resolution impeaching Asaro-Angelo for how he has handled his job during the pandemic.
Previous reporting from Michael Symons was included in this story.