It’s been nearly 10 weeks since New Jersey’s stay-at-home order went into effect, sparking the surge of those filing for unemployment.
“Some people filed back in mid-March and still are getting these messages saying their cases are either pending or the weekly benefit rate is at $0, even though they are still able to certify for benefits each week,” explained Sarah Hymowitz, a chief attorney for Legal Services of New Jersey, specializing in the Workers Legal Rights Project.
“Our clients are calling because something has happened but they don’t know what it is. They don’t know why they are not getting benefits or they don’t know why they were getting benefits and it now has stopped.”
She said in many instances, claimants will be receiving cash, but all of a sudden, it stops.
“There is not a clear reason to the claimant why they are not getting their benefits, because the claimants themselves don’t always know the problem,” she said.
One problem she does see frequently: People answer weekly claim certifications incorrectly.
“The questions don’t always make sense. For example, people are asked if they are able to work, are actively searching for work, and available for work.”
Amid the pandemic, many respond “no.”
“But you have to answer ‘you are searching for work,’ and those are the types of things that trip up claimants,” Hymowitz explained.
There is no instant trick to fix these issues, and you will still likely need to speak with someone in the unemployment office. Hymowitz said to continue emailing the office and document everything to ensure you get the money you deserve.
“They may not be able to get through by phone, but they can send an email saying, ‘I tried to certify for benefits this week and I got this message,’ or, ‘I wasn’t able to access the system at all,’ ” she added. “When it gets to the point that the Department of Labor is able to review that claim, then it will be clear that they made an attempt to certify for their benefits in that particular week, and they should be paid retroactively.”
The state legal aid office has expanded its pro-bono services to help those in need, but you must qualify for them.