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Vitale-Pou Bill to Extend Unemployment Benefits Passes Senate

Trenton – The Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale and Senator Nellie Pou to modify the monetary criteria for eligibility for the unemployment extended benefit program.

“In the spring, millions of people became unemployed through no fault of their own, and have since been receiving unemployment benefits while they continue to look for work. However, for some these benefits are set to run out in the middle of December, leaving countless of New Jersey residents without any financial security for the foreseeable future,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “This is an essential piece of legislation that we must pass to ensure the NJ extended benefits program eligibility is evaluated in the most generous way possible under federal law to ensure our residents may continue to pay their bills in the midst of the pandemic.”

“The pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy and left far too many families without a significant financial security with the exception of unemployment benefits. These benefits are set to expire next month, but only if we let that happen,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Even though there has been very good news about a COVID-19 vaccine, we will probably not get out of this for the seeable future. So, we have to continue to ensure the unemployed continue to receive their benefits.”

The bill, S-3063, would allow more people to become eligible for unemployment extended benefits for up to an additional 20 weeks. Specifically, individuals who met the 20 base week requirement for regular unemployment but did not earn 40 times their weekly benefit rate will now also be eligible for extended benefits.  In addition, those denied extended benefits since June 28, 2020 because they only met one of the above criteria and not both will be reevaluated.

This change comes at a crucial time, as claimants currently receive 26 weeks of regular unemployment and 13 weeks of benefits under the federal CARES Act. That means a worker laid off on March 15, the week after Governor Murphy declared a State of Emergency in response to COVID-19, would be processed for extended benefits during the week of December 12.

During times of economic hardship, unemployed claimants can take advantage of extended benefits programs, in addition to emergency supplemental aid often provided by the federal government. These programs are triggered when certain conditions are met, for example, when total unemployment is 6% or higher, the program provides an additional 13 weeks of compensation. When unemployment is greater than 8%, the insurance programs can be extended as long as 20 weeks past traditional unemployment insurance coverage.

The bill would not only open up the program to more existing claimants, but also allow the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to seamlessly transition them to the programs. The federal government will provide funding for half of all claims paid out under extended benefits programs.

The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 39-0.