In an effort to put teeth into the repeated calls from thousands of New Jersey’s unemployed workers, the three members from the First Legislative District announced their legislation to require the reopening of Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) state unemployment offices for in-person appointments.
Scheduled to be introduced imminently at press time, the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Michael Testa (R-1) and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen (R-1), directs the Commissioner of Labor Robert Asaro-Angelo to reopen the facilities for in-person appointments.
Under the proposed legislation, if the state unemployment offices are not reopened, the total compensation of the commissioner, deputy commissioner, assistant commissioners, and the department’s chief of staff are to be reduced by five percent every two weeks, for the first month, and thereafter until all closed state unemployment offices are reopened. The funds collected from the pay reductions would be placed in a special fund in the Department of the Treasury to be known as the “Unemployed Workers Compensation Fund” to repay the filers who were harmed by the Department’s inaction.
“Teachers are back in classrooms, first responders are patrolling our streets, and medical professionals are in facilities caring for our most vulnerable. If they can serve out in the community, then so can Department of Labor employees,” said Sen. Testa (R-Vineland). “This failed system where Department employees work from their couch and get paid every two weeks is not working for all New Jerseyans. Commissioner Asaro-Angelo needs to do his job and order his employees back to work and this bill will incentivize him and his staff to do just that.”
“Our office has dealt with a countless number of people all dealing with the same issue, the failures of the NJDOL, and it is time to do something about it,” said Simonsen (R-Cape May). “We will continue to help our constituents because we will not leave them in their time of need, but at the same time, we need to get to the root of the issue, which is the NJDOL not being accountable for their constant self-created failures: Failures that only hurt already struggling New Jerseyans. We will make sure the NJDOL is accountable for those failures. We cannot let government agencies believe they are above being accountable for their actions. New Jerseyans deserve accountability from government agencies and their elected officials.”
The trio of lawmakers sent a letter in January asking when in-person appointments could be restarted and noted that the First District office staff and legislative offices across New Jersey have been working tirelessly to help increasingly desperate constituents who cannot access their unemployment benefits via the NJDOL’s failing system.
“Many issues that are taking anywhere from six to eight weeks to process could be resolved in six to eight minutes with the restoration of in-person services,” the legislators wrote in the letter.
These offices and One-Stop Centers were closed on March 18, 2020, more than 700 days ago, by order of Commissioner Asaro-Angelo. At that time, the release said that “operations are expected to reopen on March 30, 2020.” According to a recent news article, the Commissioner has said that “One-Stop Career Centers continue to function, but they are only open for in-person visits by appointment and most cases don’t need these centers to get answers to unemployment questions.”
The legislators believe that if the One-Stops are open for in-person appointments, the state unemployment offices should follow suit and reopen as well.
“People are fed up and need assistance, but the NJDOL continues to keep their doors closed,” stated McClellan (R-Ocean City). “The NJDOL’s unfair and unprofessional actions have hindered many New Jerseyans while creating a massive backlog of people waiting for services and benefits. They forget they are servants of the people, not the other way around. When a government agency performs in this manner, it is time for elected officials to stand up to lead the charge. I am incredibly proud that my fellow District One legislators are stepping up to do what needs to be done to hold the NJDOL accountable.”