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Sweeney: Proposed Unemployment Benefits Cut ‘A Total Nonstarter’

TRENTON — Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney today said he would not consider any legislation to decrease benefits to the unemployed.

“The dead of winter is no time to leave New Jersey’s unemployed out in the cold,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “This is not a plan to trim costs, it is a hit on families who right now depend on their unemployment checks to make ends meet. This is money that pays the monthly heating bill, puts food on the table or gets the gas in the car to go job-hunting. This idea is a total nonstarter that will not even find its way through the Senate doors.”

Sweeney noted that New Jersey is one of only three states – along with Pennsylvania and Alaska – where employees contribute to the Unemployment Trust Fund, and decreasing benefits would penalize workers who paid in to the system while employed.

Sweeney said he would be willing to work with the state’s Congressional delegation to seek federal assistance to shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund. He also would be open to sitting with Governor Chris Christie to investigate other options.

The Senate President stated skepticism at a companion proposal to phase-in a scheduled unemployment tax increase. He fears such a plan would prevent the UI fund from being able to meet its obligations – essentially having the same effect as a trust fund raid – while not insulating businesses from eventually having to pay the full increase.

“While I understand the concerns of business, we cannot paper over the fact that this increase is inescapable,” said Sweeney. “Whether the pain is felt immediately or takes two years – the fund still must be able to meet the needs of the unemployed. Keeping money from going into the trust fund is every bit as wrong as raiding it.”

Sweeney noted that neither plan would have any impact on the state budget, since the UI fund is a self-sustained trust fund.