NOTE: This information is current as of March 28, 2020
As the state, country, and world face the Coronavirus pandemic, the government is enacting measures to help people remain financially stable. Among those measures are programs to help those facing unemployment or reduced work hours. This article gives an overview of the available programs to help New Jersey’s workers and the changes we might expect to see in the near future with regard to unemployment.
Regular Unemployment Benefits
Regular unemployment benefits remain available to unemployed workers. To qualify for unemployment benefits in New Jersey, an individual must have earned at least $200 per week for at least 20 weeks in their base year OR have earned at least $10,000 in their base year. A person’s base year is the first four calendar quarters of the last five calendar quarters, although there are also two “alternate” base years that could apply. More information about eligibility and base years may be found here: https://myunemployment.nj.gov/labor/myunemployment/before/about/index.shtml.
In addition to earning enough in one’s base year, to access unemployment benefits in New Jersey, a person must be “non-disqualified.” That means the individual must not have left the job voluntarily without good cause or been terminated for misconduct (in that case, a 6-week delay in the receipt of benefits may apply). The “non-disqualification” analysis is very fact-specific – every case is different – and there are many exceptions to the general rule that people who leave their jobs voluntarily are disqualified from benefits. If you’re not sure whether you will be disqualified, go ahead and apply for benefits and then call Legal Services of New Jersey to discuss your case.
In New Jersey, the maximum benefits that anyone can currently receive under the “regular” unemployment program is 26 weeks. In order to access the full 26 weeks, though, the individual must have worked 26 weeks in his or her base year. Those who qualify for regular unemployment benefits in NJ receive 60% of their average weekly wages, up to a maximum of $713 per week.
Supplemental Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
Through July 31, 2020, the federal government is supplementing those who receive unemployment benefits with an additional $600 per week. This $600, a flat amount, will be paid to anyone receiving unemployment benefits (even those receiving partial benefits), in addition to the individual’s regular unemployment benefits. The $600 supplement will be paid weekly, but it is possible that this payment will be made separately (in a separate deposit) from unemployment benefits. This $600 will also be paid to those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (discussed below). Supplemental Federal Pandemic Compensation will not affect eligibility for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The New Jersey Department of Labor will administer these $600 payments.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to those who exhaust their regular unemployment benefits. This means that, in New Jersey, claimants should be eligible for a maximum of 39 weeks of benefits instead of 26 weeks. There is no separate application for these 13 weeks of extended benefits. Claimants will receive a letter about these extended benefits when they exhaust their regular benefits, and the 13-week extension should be automatic. Keep in mind that additional extension programs (through the state of NJ) may be triggered in the near future, depending on several economic factors. As of now, however, there are only 13 weeks of extended benefits under the federal program.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a program to offer financial support to those workers whose unemployment is connected to the Coronavirus pandemic but who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. This program would provide unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, “gig” economy employees (depending on the situation, though, “gig” workers may be eligible for regular unemployment benefits), people unable to start a new job due to the pandemic, and people who are otherwise not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. The New Jersey Department of Labor will determine the weekly amount of PUA benefits in the coming days (the weekly benefit amount will be $200 or higher). Individuals who receive PUA benefits will also receive the $600 per week supplemental PEUC benefits.
The PUA program is effective from January 27, 2020 to December 31, 2020. That means that workers who are unemployed for reasons related to COVID-19 and are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits may be eligible for benefits retroactive to January 27, 2020. Anyone who is not eligible for regular unemployment benefits should apply for PUA benefits through the New Jersey Department of Labor’s website: https://myunemployment.nj.gov/.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Many Coronavirus/work scenarios are discussed on the NJ Department of Labor’s website: https://www.nj.gov/labor/worker-protections/earnedsick/covid.shtml.
I can’t access my claim online or get through to anyone at the NJDOL. What should I do?
- They NJDOL is overwhelmed with an unprecedented surge in unemployment applications. Many people are experiencing difficulty in accessing the online system or reaching an NJDOL representative by phone. There is no quick answer to this problem. The federal government is allocating funds to help state departments of labor respond to the increased volume of claims, but it will take some time to adjust the NJDOL’s systems to address the surge in claims. The best thing to do, if you are having trouble accessing the system, is to document your attempts to claim your benefits or resolve your claim issue. Save any email messages you receive from the NJDOL, document any phone calls you make, and send an email to the NJDOL (through the website) if you can’t otherwise document the problem you’re facing or your attempts to resolve it. In the coming weeks, once the NJDOL is better positioned to respond to the increased volume of claims, claimants will be able to claim their benefits retroactive to this time.
To get benefits, I have to certify each week that I am able to work, available to work, and actively searching for work. What is my obligation to search for new work, given the current circumstances and social distancing requirements?
- Unemployment claimants are usually required to make at least three job “contacts” a week. Now that people’s ability to find work is extremely limited, however, the NJDOL is certain to relax the “work search” requirements. The federal government, in the stimulus bill, has asked that states be flexible with regard to these requirements because there is so much movement restriction. The NJDOL has not yet provided guidance on how claimants will be expected to meet their “work search” requirements, but we can reasonably expect flexibility in this regard.
Can I get any of these benefits if I’m on a paid leave from work or working from home?
- No. Unemployment benefits are only available to those who are unemployed.
Are federal and state workers eligible to receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation?
- Yes, as long as they are eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
Are partial unemployment benefits still available?
- Yes. A person whose work hours have been reduced by at least 20% may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits. We don’t yet know the eligibility criteria for partial benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, but it is likely to be similar to those under the regular unemployment program.
My claim was denied and I filed an appeal. What should I do?
- If you filed an appeal, you will be scheduled for an Appeal Tribunal phone hearing, just as before. There may be a delay in the scheduling of your phone hearing, but you will still have it.
I believe my employer misclassified me as an “essential” worker. I think I am a “non-essential” worker. What can I do?
- Misclassification of “essential” vs. “nonessential” workers, under Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 107, is a widespread problem. We do not yet know how the NJDOL will analyze this issue, but if you disagree about with your employer’s classification, you should document your concerns with the employer. If you ultimately leave your job as a result of the misclassification, your attempts to resolve the matter with the employer before leave will be important to show for future unemployment eligibility (or other) purposes. You may report a violation of Executive Order 107 here: https://covid19.nj.gov/violation.