Gov. Murphy Expands Unemployment Eligibility in New Jersey

By: Savannah Scarborough, Writer / Follow South Jersey Community Services Intern

Photo: Jon Bradley | Follow South Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. — Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation on December 4 that expands eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impacts on New Jersey residents.

The state of New Jersey will grant this aid to individuals who had qualified for regular unemployment insurance benefits before this new legislation. Furthermore, if claimants exhausted those benefits and/or earned 40 times their weekly unemployment rate from their previous employers, they are considered eligible for the expanded insurance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc for millions throughout the country, and Gov. Murphy has acknowledged how the virus has deeply affected thousands of individuals, families, and households in New Jersey.

COVID-19 has continued to increase dramatically throughout New Jersey, now with a total of more than 379,000 cases and 17,425 deaths. Even with the promise of a vaccine soon, there is no clear end in sight for the virus and the effects it will have on New Jersey’s community.

“Despite very good news about a COVID-19 vaccine, this public health crisis will likely continue well into the new year and we have a responsibility to our residents to ensure they receive the financial support they need,” Senator Nellie Pou said in a press release.

The original unemployment insurance plan New Jersey provided before this new legislation permitted 20 weeks of aid given to claimants who satisfied all suitable criteria. Residents were granted these benefits in the spring when the pandemic first began. Most New Jersey residents will run out of these benefits in the middle of December, leaving individuals without any financial security.

The new unemployment program intends to help unemployed workers through this difficult time and to help manage the unexpected consequences many have had to face.

“Uncertain times call for innovative measures and extending unemployment benefits for eligible workers under this new law will certainly help bridge the gap for workers to find new employment opportunities,” assembly sponsors of the bill Yvonne Lopez, speaker Craig Coughlin, and Vince Mazzeo said in a joint statement.

Citizens certified for the Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program benefits are given 26 weeks of regular unemployment. From there, the CARES Act offers up to 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The CARES Act is a nationwide $2 trillion disaster relief and economic stimulus package created in response to COVID-19.

Once those eligible for these programs run out of their 26 weeks, plus their additional 13 weeks of benefits, then those claimants are fit for the extended program provided. This extended period is available for 20 extra weeks during “high unemployment periods.” Therefore, 59 weeks is the maximum amount of time an eligible claimant may receive unemployment insurance.

Gov. Murphy said that New Jersey desperately needs the federal government to step up but that the state is doing all it can to support those through these trying times.

“This law will help many residents that were previously ineligible for extended UI benefits to get the financial relief that they earned and deserve,” Gov. Murphy stated in a press release.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.