Congressman says NJ is limiting how many unemployed people he can help
A New Jersey congressman said the state Labor Department is limiting how many unemployment claims his office can process for constituents.
Unemployment claims over the past year have been problematic for many New Jersey filers, with many frustrated by the inability to speak to a person or get a response. Many have turned to their lawmakers in Trenton and Washington for help.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith's staff has filed almost 900 claims in the past year. But his office this week said the department is now limiting third-party helpers to just 25 cases every two weeks, according to a letter the 4th Congressional District Republic wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy.
"Under the new policy it will take over a year before my staff and I will be able to re-submit (as instructed) the 700 current pending cases I had already initiated with NJDOL," the letter says.
Smith's office shared emails from February with New Jersey 101.5 explaining a new case management system in which each congressional or state legislator's office could only submit "your 50 most pressing cases" to begin and and then only 25 every two weeks.
Each office was required to sign an agreement, which Smith's office objected to as did other legislative offices. Smith's office signed anyway in order to continue helping constituents. Training on the new system was also required but the first session scheduled for Monday was canceled.
In response to Smith's letter, the governor sent a copy of a letter from Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo blaming a "misunderstanding in interpreting the new case management system" that could have been cleared up with a phone call or email.
"I am confident that with the new case management system we are rolling out, all of our legislative partners will have an easier time tracking referrals to our office and will find it provides answers in a more efficient manner," Asaro-Angelo wrote.
He also praised Smith for his assistance but said the congressman did not respond to Asaro-Angelo’s letter asking Smith to co-sponsor bill HR1458, which would modernize the technology for delivering unemployment compensation.
Smith's office said he did sponsor the bill but it would not take effect for another two years.
A lookup of the bill shows it was introduced to the House Ways and Means Committee on March 1. Smith is one of 36 co-sponsors of the bill along with New Jersey Democrats Bill Pascrell Jr., Bonnie Watson Coleman and Mikie Sherrill.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor did not immediately return a message from New Jersey 101.5 about the new case management system.
Asaro-Angelo told New Jersey 101.5's Eric Scott during a recent online Town Hall special that his department has helped pay out $24 billion to 1.5 million New Jerseyans.
"While that's a big number, we are way more focused on the folks who have not received their benefits yet in figuring out ways to help them, figuring out ways to fix our systems to help them to get them further along. We've made vast huge improvements from Day 1 but we will not sleep, we will not rest until every eligible claimant gets every payment they deserve," Asaro-Angelo said.