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Lesniak Bill To Speed Up Unemployment Appeals Approved In Committee

Measure Would Require Appeals Decisions Within 60 Days

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Economic Growth Committee Chairman Raymond J. Lesniak and Senate Labor Committee Chairman Fred Madden which would require unemployment insurance appeals to be decided within 60 days – or else the applicant would receive the unemployment benefits for which they are appealing – was approved by the Labor Committee by a vote of 3-0, with two abstentions.

“Showing disdain for the unemployed, Chris Christie is making deserving New Jerseyans who lost their jobs wait six months to receive their unemployment benefits,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Never mind that the federal government requires – and previous administrations made sure – that unemployment appeals were decided within 45 days, and never mind the workers who lost their jobs paid into the unemployment trust fund during their employment. And never mind that the six month delay may cost the unemployed worker his home or health care insurance coverage, or force them to lose their car, force them to pull their kids from school, or force them into a position where their credit rating is all but destroyed.

“Governor Christie may not be concerned with the plight of unemployed New Jerseyans, but I’m concerned,” added Senator Lesniak. “S-2212 would require the State to make a determination on a person’s appeal within 60 days or pay unemployment benefits to the laid-off worker. Hopefully the New Jersey Department of Labor will take notice and do their job. They haven’t so far.”

The bill, S-2212, would require the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to rule on an unemployment insurance appeal within 60 days of receiving the appeal. If the Department does not make a determination on the appeal within 60 days, the claimant making the appeal would be paid any withheld unemployment benefits resulting in the denial of their eligibility, and would begin receiving benefits as they would normally accrue under the unemployment compensation law. If the Department decides, after the 60 day deadline has past, that the claimant is legitimately ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits, then the benefits may be modified or denied from that point forward, but any funds that were withheld and paid out resulting from the Department’s delay would not have to be repaid, unless funds were paid as a result of intentional fraud by the claimant.

The bill stems from the issues that many New Jerseyans have had in recent months in appealing the denial of unemployment benefits. After a number of constituents contacted Senator Lesniak’s office on the matter, staffers reached out to the Division of Unemployment Insurance within the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development and learned that the wait time for the Division to even begin to hear an appeal is between 20 and 24 weeks. While individuals can sometimes receive expedited consideration if they have received an eviction notice, expedited consideration is never guaranteed, and individuals appealing the denial of unemployment benefits do not receive any notice as to how long it may take for their case to be heard.

As of June-July of 2011, the average wait time for unemployment benefits appeals was 8 – 10 weeks.

According to information provided by the Division of Unemployment Insurance, the State receives approximately 10,000 unemployment benefits claims a week, and the appeals division receives approximately 3,000 appeals cases a month. Recently, the UI appeals division has lost staff due to attrition, and the 41 remaining staffers cannot handle the workload. While the Division has confirmed that it is in the process of hiring more staff members to handle appeals, a U.S. Department of Labor audit team has recently suggested that the Division of Unemployment Insurance staff their appeals division at the same level it was at before the beginning of the recession.

“When constituents first came to my office to ask if there was any way to expedite their claims, we couldn’t believe that it was taking six months to consider an unemployment benefits appeal,” said Senator Lesniak. “A six month backlog within the appeals process means that New Jerseyans who’ve paid into the unemployment insurance fund, and who may be eligible for benefits, could find themselves denied on a technicality, and would have to wait half a year to have that technicality corrected. This is about basic fairness to New Jerseyans who may have fallen on hard times and depend on unemployment insurance to make ends meet. Six months is too long to find out whether or not you qualify for unemployment benefits.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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