Union County Lawmakers Blast Administration For Unemployment Appeals Backlog

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UNION – State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak and Assembly members Joe Cryan and Annette Quijano today blasted the Christie Administration over a six-month backlog within the Division of Unemployment Insurance for out-of-work New Jerseyans appealing the denial of unemployment benefits.

“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,” said Lesniak, D-Elizabeth. “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. Considering that most banks will begin a foreclosure action in 90 days of delinquency, for unemployed New Jerseyans to have to wait six months for an appeals decision is ridiculous.”

The lawmakers said they were alerted to the problem after several constituents had contacted their joint district office seeking expedited appeals consideration when they were denied unemployment benefits. Upon contacting the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development, staffers learned that the wait time for the Division of Unemployment Insurance to even begin to hear an appeal is between 20 and 24 weeks. While individuals can sometimes receive expedited consideration if they have received an eviction notice, expedited consideration is never guaranteed, and individuals appealing the denial of unemployment benefits do not receive any notice as to how long it may take for their case to be heard.

As of June-July of 2011, the average wait time for unemployment benefits appeals was 8 – 10 weeks.

“The difference between being able to provide for your family or being forced out your home is sometimes a matter of days, not months,” said Cryan, D-Union. “When deserved unemployment benefits are being unfairly denied, every day that goes by is a step further into the economic abyss. That the administration, in this economic climate, can’t provide people with the right to a fair and swift hearing is cold and callous. It’s inexcusable, and it needs to be corrected immediately.”

According to information provided by the Division of Unemployment Insurance, the state receives approximately 10,000 unemployment benefits claims a week, and the appeals division receives approximately 3,000 appeals cases a month. Recently, the UI appeals division has lost staff due to attrition, and the 41 remaining staffers cannot handle the workload. While the Division has confirmed that it is in the process of hiring more staff members to handle appeals, a U.S. Department of Labor audit team has recently suggested that the Division of Unemployment Insurance staff their appeals division at the same level is was at before the beginning of the recession.

“It is unconscionable that even one family may have already faced financial ruin because an unjust denial wasn’t reversed for months, instead of hours or days,” said Quijano, D-Elizabeth. “For many families, unemployment insurance has been not just a safety net, but a lifeline. To think that even one family has had that net unfairly pulled out from under them is an outrage. The administration needs to step up and make this right before another family finds themselves in a similar economic freefall.”

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