On Jan. 9, Elizabeth Matsutani said she received her last unemployment check for $414, exhausting the benefits she’s relied on since April after she lost her job as an administrative assistant due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, the 60-year-old has watched her bills pile up — $1,100 in rent for her Lake Como studio apartment, $173 in cable and internet, $136 for car insurance, and money for her cat’s insulin for diabetes.
“I have $0 in my bank account. I have nothing, and I never thought in my whole life that I would say that,” she said, breaking down in tears. “I’ve never been to a food bank, and now I go to one in a church. I was thinking of panhandling, it’s gotten so bad. … They’re just leaving me and my cat for dead.”
She’s one of 75,000 people who the state says haven’t received an unemployment check in weeks as benefits expire, stuck in a limbo as the state updates its programming to distribute the newly passed 11-week federal benefit extension.
And that number is expected to continue going up each week as more people exhaust their benefits. It’s already more than double what it was in January, Labor Department spokeswoman Angela Delli-Santi said in a statement to NJ Advance Media.
The delays are due in part to the stimulus bill passed in late December, which allowed for 11 more weeks of federal benefits. Federal labor rules say all federal benefits, like the 11-week extension, must be paid before extended state benefits kick in. New Jersey also has a 20-week extension of benefits based on the state’s high unemployment rate dating back to the summer.
By the time Congress acted and former President Donald Trump signed the bill on Dec. 27, 2020, the new law made it “nearly impossible for payment to continue uninterrupted” for millions of claimants across the country, Delli-Santi said.
“Congress and the President did not give the states enough time to reprogram their systems to allow for benefits to continue without delay for claimants,” she added, noting it’s a national issue.
While hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey had the 11 weeks added to their benefits without interruptions under the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act, many are experiencing delays while the state Labor Department updates its system.
People who are in the middle of their 20 weeks of extended benefits will finish out that benefit until it’s exhausted, then will transition to the 11 weeks, the state said. But some are in limbo as they wait for the 11-week benefit to start if they haven’t already started the 20-week extension.
“The programming challenge lies in the fact that prior to enactment of the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act, these claimants would have moved to 20 weeks of state extended benefits. Even though both PEUC (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) and extended benefits are fully federally funded, U.S. Department of Labor mandates that claimants exhaust…
Go to the news source: ‘I have $0 in my bank account.’ 75K people in N.J. still waiting for unemploymen…