Home>Articles>Senate panel clears bill assigning unemployment handlers to legislators

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Senate panel clears bill assigning unemployment handlers to legislators

By Nikita Biryukov, March 22 2021 5:06 pm

Correction: This article initially referred to the “Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee.” No such body exists. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced the bill.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously advanced a measure that would require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to assign handlers to cover unemployment claims routed through legislative offices Monday.

The measure would appropriate $1.8 million and require the department assign an unemployment claims handler to each legislative district and to partisan offices while the pandemic wears on.

“This legislation is to give use somebody that we can work directly with. Just trying to find somebody is difficult every single time we try to do it,” said State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the bill’s sponsor.

The bill, introduced earlier this month, follows an attempt by the administration to shift the way it handles unemployment claims referred by legislators. That system, of which Scutari said he was unaware, limited legislators and members of Congress to 50 referrals in a two-week startup period and to 25 referrals every other week thereafter.

That proposal would also see one staffer for each legislator given access to the state’s unemployment claim filing system, allowing them to communicate directly with their constituents about their claims, but it’s not clear the new system would have eased workloads for legislative offices already inundated under months of unemployment claims.

“This is just because my staff is being overwhelmed, and there was a suggestion that our staff become hybrid staff of the Department of Labor, and that’s not really our job,” Scutari said. “That’s your job.”

The new system, the subject of a tiff between Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) and Gov. Phil Murphy, was pushed in part because the department did not wish to prioritize unemployment claims referred by lawmakers over ones filed through regular channels, a department spokesperson told the New Jersey Globe last week.

“We’re not asking for anything extra,” Scutari said. “We just want people to be treated with some respect and some responsiveness, and in order to get that done, we need them to dedicate some resources to us.”

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