A record 206,253 new unemployment claims were filed in NJ last week

A record 206,253 new unemployment claims were filed with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for the week ending March 28, bringing the two-week total of new claims to just over 362,000, state officials said.

A total of 6.6 million people in the U.S. joined the unemployment rolls last week, according to federal data.

In New Jersey, initial claims for the week ending March 28 exceeded those for the prior week, when 155,815 new claims were filed.  

The number of new unemployment claims over the past two weeks far surpassed the New Jersey Labor Department’s highest total of single-week claims in memory. Initial claims spiked past 46,000 in a single week after Superstorm Sandy in November 2012, and shot up to 25,385 for a week in July 2010, the low point of the last recession.

A breakdown of the claims that were processed March 15-28 shows the hardest-hit employees worked in food services and drinking establishments, with 16.5 percent of claims; ambulatory health care services (doctors’ and dentists’ offices), with 11 percent of claims; and administrative and support services, with 7 percent of claims. 

“We know a lot of people are hurting, so we are grateful to announce that financial help is on the way for workers upended because of this public health crisis,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “These unemployed workers now have access to emergency paid leave to care for themselves or a loved one, they are in line for a $600 per week supplement to their unemployment benefit, there’s a federal extension of unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, even for those whose claims have expired, and unemployment benefits are becoming available for freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors, who typically are not eligible.” 

The $600 supplemental unemployment is expected to arrive beginning next week. It will be issued separately from regular unemployment benefits. 

Applicants for unemployment in New Jersey do not have a “waiting week” before benefits are paid once they are approved.  

The New Jersey Labor Department is waiting for federal guidance on determining eligibility for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and officials anticipate that the guidance will arrive soon. Meanwhile, freelancers and independent contractors should apply for unemployment insurance. Officials said the application likely will be denied, but that initial denial is a necessary step toward being able to collect the COVID-related benefit. Freelancers and independent contractors should gather their past two years of tax returns, which will become necessary for their claim to be processed once federal rules are established, officials said. 

State officials said they are also still waiting for information from the U.S. Labor Department about who will be eligible for the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. 

New Jersey has temporarily suspended the “work search requirement” for laid-off workers and has created a jobs portal — jobs.covid19.nj.gov — to match people who are looking for work with immediate openings in industries on the frontlines of the pandemic. Thousands of positions are available immediately throughout the state.