With federal lawmakers still locked in stalemate over stimulus bill, Legislature unanimously approves bill to protect NJ’s jobless
TRENTON – The Senate and the Assembly today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senators Dawn Addiego, Joe Lagana and Vin Gopal that would extend Unemployment Insurance payments by eight weeks and continue job-sharing furlough programs.
“With Congress still negotiating a new stimulus bill and unemployment benefits starting to run out, we need to act immediately to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers who are out of work because of the pandemic are able to continue to feed their families,” said Senator Addiego (D-Burlington), the bill’s prime sponsor. “The extra eight weeks of unemployment eligibility starts Monday and will be a welcome relief to struggling families facing a difficult holiday season.
“As we were voting today, New Jersey families were being forced to choose between holiday gifts for their children and groceries or between making a car payment and paying their rent. The list of hard choices these families face is right out of Dickens and goes on and on, and none of the outcomes are good for these families or for our state,” she said.
Senator Addiego thanked her Senate colleagues for passing the bill 40-0 and the Assembly for voting 79-0 to approve identical legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex). She urged the Governor to immediately sign it into law.
S-3283/A-5151 will provide expanded unemployment insurance coverage from December 20 through February 27, 2021, for all workers eligible to receive unemployment benefits under New Jersey state law.
“Providing these benefits is the right thing to do for individuals and families who have lost their livelihoods in this pandemic,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The extension of UI benefits has been done during other times of great difficulty and it is certainly called for now. No New Jerseyan should lose their benefits in the middle of the holiday season.”
The bill also extends New Jersey’s employee job-sharing program past December 31, when supplemental federal payments are scheduled to end without further action by Congress, and specifically authorizes use of the furlough program to rehire previously laid-off workers who have been collecting unemployment.
“It is crucial that we continue this program that enables employers to keep more of their workers on the payroll part-time and to slowly transition workers they previously laid off back into the workforce as the economy improves,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Workers in the furlough program get more money each week from their part-time pay and partial unemployment benefits than they would get by staying on unemployment.”
The extended benefits in the bill will come at no cost to employers and will be provided as a stopgap measure that will be replaced by federal funding if similar programs are covered in any new federal stimulus legislation.
While the Legislature previously authorized an additional 20 weeks of unemployment coverage that will enable those put out of work last March at the start of the coronavirus shutdown to continue to receive benefits through April, thousands of workers who had lost their jobs earlier were already starting to exhaust their benefits, and there is no guarantee that a new furlough program will be included in any new federal program.
State legislatures and governors in New Mexico, Minnesota and Colorado have already enacted extended unemployment benefits to help workers in their states whose benefits are running out because of the failure of Congress and the White House to reach an agreement on a new program.
New Jersey previously enacted similar state-funded temporary emergency unemployment extensions for 13 weeks in 1991 and 1996 and for 10 weeks in 2001-2002.
While a series of reforms were enacted to protect the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund after the Great Recession of 2007-2008, the fund’s $2.4 billion surplus was depleted because 1.8 million New Jersey workers filed for benefits this year. The $500 million the state has borrowed from the federal government to shore up the depleted fund pales in comparison to the $16.7 billion already borrowed by California and $8.9 billion by New York State.