Image by Cari Dobbins from Pixabay
By Glenn Townes

More than 750,000 jobs vanished last month due to COVID-19, according to figures released this week from the New Jersey labor department—add to the mix an unemployment rate that is slightly higher than the national jobless rate and the historic Garden state has indeed become a current state of despair.

According to statistics, about 757,000 jobs were lost across the state in April—a record and the state unemployment rate peaked at 15.3 percent—compared to an average of about 14.7 percent across the country. Economist predict the unemployment rate will remain perched at about 15 percent through the end of the year. The hardest hit industries include leisure and hospitality, trade, transportation and education with the loss of  more than half a million jobs. About $3.4 billion has been paid out in jobless benefits—a figure state economists said will continue to rise throughout the summer and fall.

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, state labor commissioner Robert Asaro Angelo said, “As our state was succeeding in flattening one curve {COVID-19}, it was natural to see a rise in another {unemployment}.” Asaro Angelo has faced mounting criticism including calls for him to resign as head of the labor from state politicos and constituents—citing ongoing issues in processing unemployment payments. Complaints include the handling of an enormous backlog of claims; computer malfunctions and improper processing of valid claims. For example, one claimant was approved for standard state unemployment benefits through a part time job, when he should have been denied and instead approved for the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) as a self-employed individual. The gig worker has filed several appeals online; telephoned the office  and mailed several letters directly to Asaro Angelo. To date, the gig worker has not received a response or benefits for nearly 3 months.

“I’m dead broke and don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m afraid if I certify weekly for the regular unemployment I was approved for and should not have been, it would be considered committing unemployment fraud,” he said. “I’m eligible for PUA benefits and not regular unemployment benefits, but I can’t get through to anyone to help me get it rectified.”

Lastly,  Asaro Angelo assures claimants that all valid claims will be processed, backdated and paid in full. However, the assurance is too little and too late for thousands of families across the state with no income.

Once recent Facebook message from a family in the central city of  Edison, read, in part, …”Husband no work, both kids no work,,grandma no money and disabled..if not for my mother in law we would not have food. I’m not asking for money, but for help, PLEASE! How can we get our unemployment benefits? Stimulus? PLEASE HELP US!!

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