When standard unemployment insurance (UI) benefits run out in New Jersey, claimants can sometimes get extended benefits depending on the unemployment rate at the time. The state offers extended benefits beyond the usual 26 weeks in a one-year period in times of hardship. For example, both New Jersey and the federal government provided additional benefits to claimants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eligibility Requirements for UI in New Jersey
To be eligible for benefits, claimants must live in New Jersey and:
- Be unemployed through no fault of their own.
- Have been employed in the state during the past 12 months or longer.
- Make a minimum amount of earnings determined by state guidelines.
- Actively seek work every week that they collect benefits.
To receive benefits, claimants must be able to work and actively seek work. They cannot refuse a reasonable or "suitable" offer of employment. If a claimant cannot work because they have to take care of family members or are physically unable to work, they may not be able to get UI benefits.
Claimants must attend in-person meetings or interviews if the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDLWD) requires it – missing these appointments may cost a claimant their UI benefits for that week. If the interview is by phone, the NJDLWD will schedule a call time, and the claimant must be available for two hours after that time, as there may be a delay in the call.
UI Benefit Amount in New Jersey
The New Jersey weekly maximum benefit amount is $804 in 2022. Applicants who meet the above requirements for benefits can receive payments for up to 26 weeks of unemployment in a year period.
Applicants not entitled to the maximum weekly benefit amount may add to their entitlement with dependency benefits, which increase their benefits by 7 percent for the first dependent, plus 4 percent for the next two dependents up to the maximum benefit amount per week.
How Benefits Are Calculated
New Jersey calculates benefits based on the applicant's base period, which is the first four of five complete calendar quarters before a claimant files a claim. During that time, the claimant must meet one of two requirements: They must have worked a minimum of 20 weeks earning at least $240 per week in the base period, or they must have earned a minimum of $12,000 total during the base period.
The NJDLWD calculates the claimant's weekly rate at 60 percent of their average weekly earnings during the base period. It determines the claimant's average based on what their employer reports. Part-time employees are also eligible for benefits, but they will get less than the maximum amount of benefits per week.
Getting Extended Unemployment Benefits
In times of high unemployment, the state and sometimes the federal Department of Labor will extend federal unemployment benefits to New Jerseyans. For example, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Trump administration enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provided more flexibility to state UI agencies.
Additionally, it passed the CARES Act, expanding funds for most workers, including those not typically covered by UI such as the self-employed and independent contractors who received funds through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program.
On July 1, 2020, the Garden State's high unemployment rate allowed the NJDLWD to extend benefits by 13 weeks to those who had exhausted them as long as they met the minimum earnings requirements and their initial claim was filed on May 12, 2019 or later. Federal UI payments expired on September 4, 2021, and the state's program ended on April 9, 2022.
Requirements While Receiving UI Benefits
While getting unemployment insurance benefits, claimants must search for work each week and keep a list of the places they contacted, the dates of contact and the outcome, as the NJDLWD may ask to see these. Unemployed workers should contact at least three different companies every week. If they are offered work that is suitable, they must take it immediately. The NJDLWD determines if a job is suitable by looking at certain factors, such as:
- Claimant's health and morals.
- Physical fitness and previous training.
- Experience level and previous earnings and benefits.
- How long the claimant has been unemployed.
- Prospects for finding work in their usual field.
- Commute situation.
If the work pays 80 percent of the claimant's average earnings per week, including benefit value in the last year, the job is considered suitable.
Each person is different, and the requirements for suitable employment are subjective to each, but the longer the claimant remains unemployed, they risk being forced to revise their minimum job requirements. For example, their commute time may be longer or they may have to accept a lower salary than they want.
Receiving Benefit Payments
Claimants can have their UI payments issued to a prepaid debit card through Money Network/My Banking Direct. Those who had benefits on their debit card in the past 18 months automatically get a new card when becoming approved on their new claim.
The old card remains active so that they can use the remaining balance. Approved UI claimants will receive their new card within 10 days after the NJDLWD approves their application.
The debit card is sent to claimants via regular mail in an unmarked envelope with a return address of Omaha, Nebraska. Note that claimants should make sure not to mistake this for junk mail.
Availability of Funds
Once the NJDLWD posts a UI payment, funds should be available to the claimant within two business days of the payment date. The transaction will be denied if the account has insufficient funds when a claimant attempts to cover a purchase.
- NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Federal and State Extended Benefits
- Department of Labor and Workforce Development: How We Calculate Benefits
- U.S. Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance Relief During COVID-19 Outbreak
- NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development: Economic Comeback Triggers End to Extended Unemployment Benefits
- NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development: FAQ: Prepaid Benefits Debit Card
- My Banking Direct: Home
- NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development:Glossary
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.