Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senate President Pro
Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sandra B. Cunningham, Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Paul Sarlo, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Nicholas Scutari and Republican Budget Officer Steve Oroho sent the following letter to Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Robert Asaro-Angelo:
Dear Governor Murphy and Commissioner Asaro-Angelo,
In these unprecedented times, hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans are fighting to survive both physically and financially. Public health is priority number one, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic thousands of residents were forced into unemployment, getting financial resources into their pockets has to be priority number two. Right now the system is overwhelmed and thousands of people eligible for unemployment benefits are being asked to wait till July to receive the checks they need desperately.
In this moment, ensuring that residents can remain in their homes, put food on their table and pay for out of pocket medical expenses is a moral obligation of the government. Our residents are suffering, and the Legislative constituent offices are receiving calls and emails from residents not getting through to the unemployment services. We realize your offices are experiencing the same ten times fold, so how can the legislature help you?
What is needed, today, to appropriately expand the department’s capacity? What steps have been taken to expedite the application process for our most desperate New Jerseyans? If there is a single state employee available to assist, they should be at the unemployment office. If training is needed, then train. If licenses are needed, then buy the licenses. This is an immediate priority and the time to deliver on this is now.
The residents of New Jersey have waited far too long and are enduring too much hardship. The failure to provide this support in a timely way is making circumstances worse. We all have an obligation to protect our residents from any further suffering.
The letter came on the heels of Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-40) calling on Labor Commissioner Asaro-Angelo to fix the weeks long backlog of unemployment claims or resign, but the commissioner’s sticking around, according to Governor Phil Murphy.
“Kevin’s a good guy, a very good public servant, and I consider him a friend but Rob’s not going anywhere,” Murphy told reporters last week at the War Memorial, referring to Commissioner Asaro-Angelo. “This is a 500-year flood. Rob and his team have laid it out. That’s not making up for anyone’s frustratons. I dont blame you.”
But if someone believes the labor commssioner is not going above and beyond, Murphy added, he or she needs to go to another state for a comparison.
Rooney said his office is currently handling hundreds of open unemployment cases in his district. After waiting six weeks to get a return call, one constituent was put on hold for three hours before being disconnected.
“Fixing the current systemic problems with unemployment clearly requires new leadership,” said the Bergen assemblyman. “Since Murphy won’t reopen the economy to maintain jobs, he needs to fix unemployment immediately.
“I’ve heard excuses and blame, but not the leadership and action that is needed to help,” said Rooney. “Over a million New Jerseyans are without jobs and in dire need of a financial lifeline. But, there doesn’t seem to be any ideas coming forward to fix the problems.”