TRENTON – Three lawmakers blasted the state today over a backlog in processing unemployment benefit cases.
State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, and Assembly members Joe Cryan and Annette Quijano (all D-20), said today they have received several reports from constituents that there is a six-month backlog within the Division of Unemployment Insurance for appeals concerning the denial of unemployment benefits.
Expecting residents to wait so long to learn if they qualify for the benefits, they said, is unacceptable.
“It is inconceivable to us that unemployed New Jerseyans might have to wait six months to find out whether or not they qualify for benefits,” Lesniak said in a release. “As New Jersey’s unemployment rate continues to be among the worst in the nation, there’s no excuse for understaffing in the Division of Unemployment Insurance, and there’s no excuse for six-month backlogs on appeals cases.”
The lawmakers said they were alerted to the problem after several constituents contacted their district office seeking expedited appeals after they were denied benefits. Upon contacting the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, it was learned that the wait time for the Division of Unemployment Insurance to even begin to hear an appeal is between 20 and 24 weeks, the lawmaker said.
As of July 2011, the average wait time for unemployment benefits appeals was eight to 10 weeks, they said.
“The difference between being able to provide for your family or being forced out of your home is sometimes a matter of days, not months,” Cryan said in a release.
The state receives approximately 10,000 unemployment benefits claims a week, and the appeals division receives approximately 3,000 appeals cases a month, according to information provided by the Division of Unemployment Insurance,. Recently, the UI appeals division has lost staff due to attrition, and the 41 remaining staffers cannot handle the workload, the Democratic lawmakers said.
The Division has confirmed that it is in the process of hiring more staff members to handle appeals.
Labor Department Spokesman Brian Murray said the department is working with federal officials to get 12 more workers to help expedite claims. He said the number of claimants has skyrocketed compared to pre-recession levels, and staff sizes have remained largely the same.
Murray pointed out that nearly 75 percent of appeals made by claimants have been unsuccessful.