Unemployment can be a complicated thing, but a mistake in last week’s cover story about the NJ Unemployed Town Hall Meeting put together by Katie DeVito and her husband, Nick, simply got one wrong.
The article describes the importance of a pending state bill that would allow unemployed residents to file claims online. But contrary to what U.S. 1 wrote — that unemployed residents must physically go to an unemployment office in person during regular business hours in order to file — the unemployed can file online already, though residents still must file during regular state hours on specific days of the month. The bill would simply make it a 24/7 option. We apologize to Katie DeVito for jumping to conclusions.
The feedback came immediately online at www.princetoninfo.com — see the comments at the end of the DeVito article. Within a few days we received the following letters to the editor, which gave some new insight into the challenges of the unemployed:
#b#To the Editor: Corrections Needed#/b#
Except for temporary assignments, I have been unemployed and actively looking for work for almost five years, so your article about Katie DeVito and her efforts on behalf of unemployed New Jersey workers was of great interest.
I think a critical need at this time is to upgrade the phone center system at UI and hire and train more representatives. There are many things that cannot be handled through the website, and it is incredibly hard to reach the department by phone.
For example, if you file a continuing claim through the website for a split period, i.e., if you worked and had income for one of the two weeks and are claiming unemployment benefits for the other week, the confirmation message you get says, “The information you have provided will need to be reviewed before your benefit payment can be processed . . . If you have not heard anything about your claim within a week, you may E-mail us for information.” But the E-mail department is so inundated that a response is likely to come weeks later, if at all. Weeks can go by with no check, no determination, no response to the e-mail, so if you want a check, you must go through the telephone center.
On many occasions, I have tried for days to get through to UI by phone. Even when I call multiple times right around 7 a.m. when the lines are supposed to open, the recording goes directly from “Our offices are closed” to “Due to the high volume of calls, we cannot take your call at this time.” When I finally did get through, the wait to speak to an agent was never less than 30 minutes.
To make matters worse, the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD) has discontinued mailing the paper notices that provided important information, including the date of your next filing for continuing benefits. Without these notices, someone receiving UI benefits has no record of their unemployment income, and applications for any other type of assistance — food banks, food stamps, home energy assistance, etc. — require proof of income. According to UI, the only way you can get this is to call them (via the problematic phone system described above) and have them mail it to you, or visit a DLWD One-Stop Center.
It should be possible for any person who receives unemployment benefits and who has access to a computer to access their UI record on line and download and print their payment records any time they need them. That would still leave people who don’t have computer access standing in line at the One-Stop Centers, but even that would be preferable to the current untenable situation.
Rose Mary Schwarz, Ewing
I filed online and have claimed benefits online. Yes, the few times I have had to call in because of a problem, it has been ghastly — two-plus hour waits on the phone.
It was also interesting to read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about New Jersey being one of only six states that allow support for starting a small business when unemployed.
Linda Mather, Princeton