TRENTON – A bill that improves how New Jersey runs its unemployment insurance system is now law, including changes Gov. Phil Murphy made to the legislation through a conditional veto.

The law, formerly S2357, is intended to make the system more efficient with timelier payments of benefits.

“As we work to enhance the UI system, we must ensure that the process is timely and transparent from start to finish,” Murphy said. “Every eligible recipient of unemployment benefits deserves to receive assistance as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.”

Troubles with unemployment during pandemic

Unemployment insurance was a source of widespread frustration during the pandemic, when a surge of applicants in the spring of 2020 overwhelmed the system. It eventually caught up, but applicants would complain of long waits and an inability to get in touch with anyone from the state able to help.

"We distributed $37 billion to more than 2 million workers during the pandemic, but we never want to see even one resident struggle to pay their bills or find a new job," said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.

The state is working with the U.S. Department of Labor on a new, modernized unemployment system.

How the system would change

The bill mandates certain things and timetables in how the state interacts with employers; requires initial determinations within three weeks without the current allowance for a two-week extension; gives people more times and opportunities for appeals.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate and Assembly in June, only to be conditionally vetoed in September. The Legislature concurred with the changes last month, and Murphy signed it a week after it returned to his desk.

"This law is a response to the processing delays and wait times seen during a critical time of high unemployment during the coronavirus crisis. It will provide much-needed relief to claimants by expediting the determination and appeals process and by providing more options for claimants to speak directly with department staff to resolve issues,” said Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester.

“Delays in processing unemployment benefits have real-world consequences. These delays might be the difference on whether families can pay their monthly bills or put food on the table,” said Sen. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen. “This law will make sure all eligible individuals are being served and receiving benefits they’ve earned in a timely manner, so they in turn might stave off any unnecessary financial burdens.”

Murphy responds with conditional veto

Murphy said the conditional veto was necessary to ensure the state complies with federal law.

Among the changes Murphy made to the bill was one delaying its effective date by five months. It will take effect at the end of July 2023, rather than early March. They also apply to the instances in which overpayments are identified and must be repaid.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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