TRENTON – People stuck in an information vacuum on why their jobless claims are being suspended may soon benefit from a tech upgrade that provides them with details online about the issues causing the hiatus.
Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said “a lot of justifiable frustration arises when benefits cease, seemingly out of nowhere”, with vague messages that say “pending” or “the claim is not payable at this time”.
“I know the anguish that causes when you don’t know what is going on with your complaint,” Asaro-Angelo said during a hearing of the Assembly’s budget committee.
One of the first upgrades funded to the tune of $ 7.8 million in the proposed state budget would be to provide specific reasons why a request was suspended on the dashboard status page in line that a person sees when logged into the unemployment system, Asaro-Angelo said.
Asaro-Angelo said the data sharing that would enable the change involves a shift from mainframe to cloud computing.
“In the past, before the pandemic, they could just call and drop by,” Asaro-Angelo said. “But obviously, as we increase the capacity of our call centers, we are very aware that it is not easy to access them.”
Frustrated lawmakers whose offices have essentially acted as extensions of the unemployment division over the past 13 months have urged Asaro-Angelo to add more workers.
MP Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, said the lack of personal contact was frustrating for people.
“We’re looking for someone to be able to talk to someone physically, to guide them through the process,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “To access the system while they are on the phone, solve the problem, then they can be fixed.”
R-Union MK Nancy Munoz said the inability to contact a human to speak with is what frustrates people the most.
“People are so desperate,” Munoz said. “We had someone in District 21 called, he was going to kill himself.
MP Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, urged the Labor Department to get its workers vaccinated so they can go to their offices, call the field and help people.
Asaro-Angelo said call centers have 500 workers and are adding more. He said the total staff working on unemployment insurance has tripled to 1,500 people.
He said residents are frustrated with the outdated technology of the unemployment system, but ultimately it’s the complex federal rules that trip them up.
“Because the volume is so high and so many people need to talk to a human, we need a human solution, not just a technological one,” said Asaro-Angelo.
Michael Symons is the State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].
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