Lesniak & Quijano Introduce Legislation To Speed Up Unemployment Insurance Appeals

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State Sen. Ray Lesniak

TRENTON – Following up on their concern that the Unemployment Insurance appeals process is currently facing a six month backlog before cases are heard, state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano introduced legislation on Thursday which would require the UI appeals division to rule on a case within 60 days – or else the applicant would receive the unemployment benefits for which they are appealing.

“For unemployed New Jerseyans, six months without UI benefits might as well be a lifetime,” said Lesniak, D-Union. “Six months without income – whether from a job, or from the unemployment insurance program that all working New Jerseyans pay into – could lead to cars being repossessed, homes being foreclosed upon, and other financial crises for the person in question. This bill would require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Unemployment Insurance, to issue a decision within sixty days on UI appeals cases, so a person can either receive the unemployment benefits to which they’re entitled, or have closure on the issue.”

The bill introduced in the Senate and General Assembly would require the Division of Unemployment Insurance to make a determination on benefits appeals cases within 60 days of receiving the appeal. Failure to issue a determination would result in the person making the appeal receiving the unemployment benefits for which they have been denied.

“This bill is about protecting New Jersey families from financial ruin as a result of appealing a Division of Unemployment Insurance determination about their UI benefits,” said Quijano, D-Elizabeth. “Unemployment benefits are intended to be a lifeline for New Jerseyans in need, should the need ever arise, and should they find themselves without a job. At a time when our unemployment rate is among the worst in the nation, we should be doing more to help people receive the benefits they deserve and paid for through the UI deduction on their paycheck, and six months is simply unacceptable.”

The lawmakers said they were first 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.

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.

The bill is expected to be referred to the Labor committees in both the Senate and Assembly.

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