At Gov. Phil Murphy’s now twice-a-week Covid press briefing today, the governor was asked about the possibility of using federal aid money to prevent a payroll tax hike and whether those fired for being unvaccinated would be eligible for unemployment benefits – but avoided directly answering either question.
On the subject of mitigating payroll taxes, Murphy said that “nothing’s off the table” while declining to make any affirmative commitment to use money obtained from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
“We’re constantly looking at programs – I had a conversation yesterday, and expecting some sort of analysis on a potential step later on today,” he said. “So we continue to want to find creative and robust ways to get money on the street for small businesses.”
Currently circulating among legislative Republicans is a petition which would force Murphy to call a special session to find alternate methods of replenishing the state’s unemployment insurance fund, other than the payroll tax increase currently planned. Several Democratic legislators have also voiced support for using ARP money to maintain the fund, though none have yet signed the petition.
Later in the briefing, Murphy was asked whether an employee fired by a private business for refusal to get the vaccine would be eligible for unemployment. Murphy passed the question on to his chief counsel, Parimal Garg, and to Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Rob Asaro-Angelo, neither of whom gave a definitive answer.
“If a business decided to be stricter [than state requirements] on their own and decided not to have a testing opt-out, I think whether they could terminate someone and the eligibility of that individual for unemployment would probably depend on that individual’s employment arrangement,” Garg said.
Asaro-Angelo largely concurred, saying that “there are many factors which affect UI eligibility; reason for separation is just one of them.”