Unemployed workers in the state of New Jersey who have experienced a layoff or seen a substantial reduction in hours will likely be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). When their UI benefits are exhausted, they will then be eligible for federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Depending on New Jersey’s unemployment rate and the individual’s earnings in their base period, they may also qualify for state-issued extended benefits.
After they have exhausted these benefits, unemployed workers will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Self-employed people and independent contractors are also eligible for PUA. New Jersey has waived the waiting week for unemployment benefits.
Weekly Benefit Rate
The minimum weekly benefit rate (WBR) in New Jersey is $126, and the maximum WBR is $731. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) calculates the WBR at 60 percent of the average weekly wage a claimant earned during their base year. They determine an average weekly wage based on the wage information that the claimant’s employer reports. A parent, guardian or a person with other dependents may be able to increase their WBR with dependency benefits.
If a worker does not qualify with a standard base year, NJDOL can review a claimant’s earnings in two alternate base year periods to see if the amount is enough.
Work Search Requirement in Effect
New Jersey requires individuals who file unemployment claims to conduct a weekly work search. Acceptable work search methods include phone, internet and in-person contacts, as well as sending résumés. NJDOL recommends keeping track of the date of contact, the employer name, address and telephone number, the method of contact, the name of the person contacted, the position applied for, whether the employer accepted the individual’s application, and the result of the contact.
How Benefits Are Paid
NJDOL pays unemployment benefits via direct deposit or a debit card. For direct deposit, NJDOL usually transfers funds to an eligible claimant’s bank account within two full business days after the individual certifies for benefits. NJDOL will not transmit payments on bank holidays or weekends. Bank of America issues the debit card. This card comes in a plain, unmarked envelope seven to 10 days after the individual files their initial claim.
Benefits will usually be available in the debit card account within two business days after a claimant certifies.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Unemployment insurance provides benefits for 26 weeks during a one-year period. A claimant may be required to participate in mandatory scheduled appointments. They can engage in appointments over the phone, online via a secure form linked from an email from NJDOL, or in person, when in-person appointments begin to be held again. If a claimant misses an in-person or phone appointment or does not complete an online form, NJDOL may delay or deny their benefits.
Pandemic Emergency UI Compensation
After an individual exhausts their UI benefits, they will qualify for PEUC, a federal government program. PEUC payments are provided for through the American Rescue Plan Act and will expire on September 4, 2021. NJDOL will automatically enroll a claimant into state-issued extended benefits when their federal extension ends. A claimant may not automatically qualify for state-issued extended benefits.
Workers who do not meet the minimum earnings requirement are not eligible to receive the 20-week state extension. Additional weeks of state extended benefits are available only when there is a period of high unemployment. The extended benefits are reduced as New Jersey’s unemployment rate drops. A claimant can find statistics on New Jersey’s unemployment rate at Current Employment Statistics.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
PUA benefits are available for a maximum of 75 weeks, until they end on September 4, 2021. An individual establishes eligibility for PUA if they cannot claim unemployment benefits in any state. The three main reasons to claim PUA are:
- Claim is invalid due to self-employment.
- Employer is a tax-exempt entity, such as a synagogue.
- Individual has an insufficient work history.
An individual may also qualify for PUA if they were previously disqualified for UI or couldn’t meet a requirement for it, such as not earning enough in their base period. They will also qualify for PUA if they have exhausted all benefits under regular unemployment.
To claim PUA, an individual must be able and available to work, except for being unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to a qualifying reason related to the coronavirus. Such reasons include: being sick, quarantined or exposed in relationship to a COVID-19 diagnosis; providing care for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19; and being an employee and seeing hours be reduced as a direct of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
An individual may also qualify for PUA if they are self-employed, a gig worker, an independent contractor, a 1099 filer, or a farmer experiencing a significant reduction of services because of the pandemic. An individual can claim PUA if they were denied continued unemployment benefits because they refused to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that is not in compliance with local, state or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.
An individual who wants to claim PUA must be able to show they had a work history in 2019-2020, before being impacted by the pandemic or a bona fide offer of work that was to begin during the pandemic, but could not because of the pandemic.
Certify for Weekly Benefits
A claimant will certify for benefits according to the most recent schedule for certifying. The schedule is arranged according to the last four digits of a claimant’s Social Security number. A claimant needs to find the correct time slot for their Social Security number during the week. Friday is the make-up day for all claimants. Saturday certifications are suspended until early May 2021, to allow NJDOL to engage in system maintenance.
A claim is dated the Sunday of the week in which the claimant initially filed. UI weeks begin on Sunday and end at midnight on Saturday. If an individual misses their scheduled time earlier in the day, there is a make-up window later in the afternoon.
Return to Work
A claimant who is working less than full time may be able to collect part or all of their unemployment benefits. Less than full time means the claimant is working no more than 80 percent of their usual hours for their job. An individual who finds part-time work with a new employer must continue to look for full-time work if their employment claim is based on full-time work. An individual who is working part time must report their weekly gross wages. NJDOL will subtract the amount they earned from their Partial Benefit Rate.
The Partial Benefit Rate is 20 percent higher than their weekly benefit rate. A claimant cannot be paid more than their weekly benefit rate. As an example, if an individual’s weekly benefit amount is $500, their Partial Benefit Rate is $600 (20 percent higher than $500). For example, if the claimant earns $200 a week, they would receive $400 ($600 - $200 = $400).
The exception to the wage reporting rule is that an individual should not report money earned from work for a county Board of Elections for labor done on election day. These earnings do not reduce an individual’s unemployment insurance benefit.
Pensions Can Affect UI Benefits
In New Jersey, some pensions affect unemployment claims, lowering them by either 50 percent or 100 percent of the claimant’s weekly pension amount. If a claimant’s base-year period employer contributed all of the amount to their pension, the claimant’s unemployment benefits may be reduced by 100 percent of their weekly pension amount. If the claimant and their employer contributed to the pension, the claimant’s unemployment benefits may be reduced by 50 percent of their weekly pension amount.
If the claimant contributed the entire amount toward their pension, NJDOL will not reduce the claimant’s state unemployment benefits. If the claimant was involuntarily separated from work before they turned age 59 and one-half, a lump sum payment will reduce the claimant’s unemployment benefits for the week they received the payment or, at their option, prorated to a weekly deduction using actuarial tables. Receiving Social Security benefits does not reduce UI benefits.
File an Appeal
A claimant must file a written appeal within seven calendar days after NJDOL delivers its determination as to benefits or within 10 calendar days after NJDOL mails the determination. A claimant can file online or mail an appeal letter to NJDOL’s Appeal Tribunal in Trenton. The appeal letter must include the claimant’s name, Social Security number, telephone number, address and reasons for disagreeing with the determination.
Typically, an appeal hearing would be conducted in person or by telephone. An appellant has to register for their hearing in advance using an online application. While the claimant is waiting for the appeal hearing, they should continue to certify weekly and report to any appointments NJDOL schedules.
Finding a Job
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of all One-Stop Career Centers for in-person visits. NJDOL is providing critical services online, via email and phone. The virtual services do not include additional unemployment claim support. NJDOL provides priority referrals to veterans, and specialized attention and services to individuals with disabilities; migrant and seasonal farm workers; justice-involved individuals (individuals who have a legal concern like a felony conviction); youth; and older workers.
One-Stop Career Center staff are currently providing virtual workshops, job search assistance, job referrals to open vacancies and re-employment support for UI claimants, all remotely. They are also providing career planning, in the form of one-on-one online or phone appointments, career training, both assessments and referrals and job development. In addition, NDJOL is sharing information about in-person and virtual hiring events through its events calendar. In-person events include walk-in hiring events and drive-through job fairs.
Unemployment Fraud and Penalties
A claimant commits unemployment fraud when they knowingly fail to report their earnings to NJDOL when claiming benefits or when they provide false information to NJDOL. NJDOL conducts random investigations to review claimants’ eligibility, payroll records and work search contacts. If a claimant’s case is picked for a spot check, the department will contact the claimant to schedule an interview. Penalties for fraud include the garnishment of state or federal income tax refunds, a potential denial of unemployment benefits in the future and repayment of benefits received, plus interest and fines.
New Jersey is a state that offers a Shared-Work Program. This type of plan allows employers to retain a group of workers by reducing all of their hours. An employer must have at least 10 employees to participate in this program. Workers whose hours have been reduced may receive short-time unemployment benefits for the lost hours of work while continuing to receive health insurance, pension coverage and other benefits.
The purpose of the Shared-Work Program is to stabilize an employer’s workforce during a period of economic disruption like the pandemic.
Overpayment and Agreements
A claimant who receives an overpayment of unemployment benefits can avoid collection, aside from the recoupment of future benefits, by repaying the debt in full. They can also establish and maintain a monthly installment agreement. A claimant can pay a monthly installment using NJDOL’s online system.
A claimant cannot enter into a formal agreement with NJDOL to repay an overpayment of unemployment benefits if they are currently collecting unemployment benefits. According to New Jersey’s unemployment compensation law, any available benefits to which an individual is entitled must be used to offset any outstanding UI debt principal they may owe. After NJDOL has recouped the principal benefits, a claimant must pay any remaining balance of fines and interest. NJDOL cannot use a person’s UI benefits to recoup the fines and interest.
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: FAQ, Overpayments and refunds
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: The Latest Schedule for Certifying for Benefits (as of Monday, April 5)
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Your Right to Appeal
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: How We Calculate Benefits
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Expanded Unemployment Eligibility During the Coronavirus Emergency
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Benefit Extensions
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: What Is Unemployment Insurance?
- Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits Estimator
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: How Alternate Base Years Are Calculated
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Make Sure You Are Actively Seeking Work
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: One-Stop Career Centers, Expanded Remote Services
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Current Employment Statistics
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Appointments, Fact-finding Hearings and e-adjudication
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Shared-Work Program
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Unemployment Fraud
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Calendar of Upcoming Events
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: How you'll get your money
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.