The Senate Labor Committee on Monday approved a bill requiring a performance audit of a state unemployment office that has struggled for months to keep up with claims from the nearly 1.5 million New Jersey workers during the pandemic crisis.
The bill (S2512), approved 5-0, would have the state auditor review the Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance to “analyze whether the office is achieving economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the employment of available resources and whether the office is in compliance with statutory law and regulations governing the operation of the office,” according to the bill.
Lawmakers want the auditor to assess whether the division has adequate staffing and evaluate response times and capacity “when processing applications during a state of emergency.”
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has come under tremendous scrutiny in recent months, as the mountain of new claims overwhelmed the state’s antiquated mainframes and call centers. Workers reported waiting months to speak to an unemployment representative or to receive benefits.
Of the nearly 1.5 million workers in the Garden State who have filed unemployment claims since March 15, 1.3 million have been deemed eligible for benefits and 96% of those eligible workers have received some payment, the Labor Department said last week in its weekly claims update.
State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said during Monday’s committee vote the Labor Department has “failed miserably.”
“The Department of Labor has failed so many of the communities throughout the state of New Jersey,” he said. “There needs to be more transparency and a review of the department after thousands upon thousands of calls to my district office, countless emails, phone calls, and many tears coming from my constituents."
“Finally, some of my constituents have seen a light at the end of the tunnel and are now receiving some benefits. However, far too many of those same individuals stand in that position of limbo where they still have yet to hear anything from the Department of Labor or have received their benefits,” he continued. “This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not how government is supposed to work.”
If the bill is approved by the state Senate and Assembly and signed by the governor, the auditor would have one year to submit the findings.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development declined to comment on pending legislation.