No state was spared from the tsunami of unemployment claims, nor from the difficulties of implementing new federal benefit programs that continued throughout 2021, the first full calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) the state received just shy of 2.5 million initial claims for benefits in 2021, the first full calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this enormous increase in workload, NJDOL distributed nearly $40 billion in COVID-related benefits to 1.6 million workers over the past 21 months, while advancing the other federal- and state-mandated missions of the department.
“Make no mistake, the Department of Labor has a huge mission,” said Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “There will certainly be new and lingering challenges in the coming year, but at every turn, our team – and the entire Murphy Administration – is driven by the continuous fight on behalf of our workers and employers who follow the law and do the right thing. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made enormous strides in the past 12 months.”
As of November, New Jersey had recovered approximately 76% of jobs lost as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a cumulative 5.5 million continued weeks of unemployment benefits were claimed during the year, a 103% increase over pre-pandemic claims. At its 2021 peak, NJDOL experienced its highest call volume in June 2021, which had an average daily call volume of 12,476 handled connects. The average call wait time in December 2021 was less than 3 minutes, according to NJDOL.
To help process the historic volume of claims, NJDOL continued to automate. A new online employer response in the E-Adjudication process now allows employers to electronically provide separation information when an unemployment claim is filed. This programming upgrade eliminated the need for employers to return the forms by mail.
To date, NJDOL has identified more than 500,000 attempted fraudulent claims and prevented more than $5.4 billion in losses.
Part of the credit goes to ID.me, a company specializing in identity proofing. In New Jersey and more than 20 other states, ID.me completes identity checks on all new claims. To date, 183,000 claimants have successfully confirmed their identities. However, that is less than one-third of all of the claimants that have been referred to ID.me, raising a flag that many of the remaining 529,000 could be attempted fraudulent claims.
In mid-December, NJDOL announced it had been chosen by its federal partners at U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) and U.S. Digital Service (USDS), housed in the Office of the President, as a pilot state for modernization and improvement of the federal unemployment insurance system. The goal of the Claimant Experience Pilot is to design an application system that provides equitable and timely access to unemployment benefits for eligible workers, while rooting out identity theft and sophisticated fraud rings that have bogged down state systems throughout the pandemic.
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