NJ Labor Department website down amid record jobless claims
TRENTON — Amid its record crush of unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development saw its website go down for a number of hours Sunday.
"Workers seeking to claim their weekly benefits online or file a new unemployment claim have been unable to do so. We have been working feverishly to identify the source of the problem and correct it as quickly as possible," the Labor Department said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5 News, adding it expects to be fully operational by Monday.
Just days earlier, the department announced it has distributed $1 billion in benefits to more than 550,000 workers since the start of the public health emergency, and that "everything possible is being done to move claims through as quickly as possible."
However, tens of thousands of newly unemployed residents still have been waiting, some without receiving confirmation that initial claims were received.
On Twitter around 1 p.m., the department said it will post an updated schedule for customers who were scheduled to certify for unemployment on Sunday. "We understand workers' frustration over this unplanned event and apologize for the inconvenience it has caused," according to the tweet thread.
Earlier this month, New Jersey officials said the state was in dire need of computer programmers who know COBOL, the decades-old programming language that still runs the state's unemployment insurance system, along with a hefty chunk of similar transactions around the country.
State Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Rob Asaro-Angelo mentioned the "legacy technology" at an April 4 state briefing, during which he also noted the first week of the public health crisis in NJ saw a "1,600% increase in volume in unemployment claims."
On Saturday, the department shared step-by-step directions for the half a million residents expected to go online to claim weekly unemployment benefits starting Sunday.
“Applying for unemployment can be complicated, so this guide takes workers step-by-step through claiming their weekly benefits,” Asaro-Angelo said in a written release, which also noted half of the average filing errors happen on the first three questions, by claimants saying they are not available for or actively seeking work, or mistakenly saying they refused available work.
According to the department release, "workers should answer 'yes' to Question 1 if they were physically able to work before losing their job due to the coronavirus, are out of work temporarily and expect to return to their job, or are able and available for work."
"Those who are waiting to be recalled to their current job, or are delaying their job search until the national emergency subsides, should answer 'yes' to Question 2," the same release said.
"On Question 3, workers should say 'no,' unless they have refused work," the Labor Department release said.
Workers who are self-employed, independent contractors and others not usually eligible for unemployment will not be able to claim state benefits, the department also noted, while adding these workers "likely are eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)," a program the Labor Department is working to bring online in New Jersey which would "be available soon," according to the same release.
Every worker who is eligible for unemployment also will receive a supplemental $600 weekly benefit through the end of July, regardless of the amount of their regular unemployment payment.