By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
The COVID-19 health emergency is very fluid, with changes coming daily in state and federal programs, as well as the funding to support them. Here’s an update on programs that may help Monmouth County residents and other new developments over the past week.
Many residents have contacted our District 11 Legislative office seeking information about when schools will reopen. Governor Murphy has extended the closure of New Jersey schools through May 15, or about the midway point between now and the scheduled end of the school year. We will continue to post updated information on our social media sites as the tentative opening date gets closer.
We’ve also heard from residents having difficulty accessing unemployment benefits through the New Jersey unemployment website. We know how frustrating it is to spend your day on hold and not have your question answered. We have family members, friends and neighbors who are struggling to pay household bills and we see their frustration compounded by the inability to get answers to their questions about unemployment.
You deserve answers and DOL employees are working hard to make the system more efficient. The department is updating IT systems and delivering hundreds of laptops to additional claims agents and support staff as well as expanding call centers and working to deploy an intelligent automated reply system to respond to common questions. All claims will be paid retroactively. When filing your claim, remember to indicate that you are able and available to work (unless you are too physically ill to work), that you are actively seeking work, and that you did not refuse any work.
This is a truly unprecedented time for all of us, and our team is in constant communication with the Department of Labor and we will make new information available to you as we get it.
Self-employed residents have contacted our office to ask about their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Assistance is available to self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig and platform workers who are impacted by COVID-19 through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Start the process by applying for unemployment if you have not already applied. If your application is denied, don’t worry. The NJ Department of Labor is currently working with the US Department of Labor to develop the process to use your denial for traditional unemployment benefits to qualify you for PUA. In the meantime, you will need to gather the last two years of your tax returns or other evidence of income history in order to process your claim. Benefits will be paid retroactively. You can apply at the New Jersey unemployment website at myunemployment.nj.gov, where you also will find the DOL guide to applying for PUA benefits offering a list of the documents needed to apply. In the meantime, residents may continue checking the Department of Labor website and sign up to receive our office’s email updates at tinyurl.com/LD11Updates for more information.
Some constituents have called with questions about the $1,200 federal economic impact payment. While the stimulus payments are from a federal program that is outside of our jurisdiction, we are monitoring the program and will provide updates as we know them. Residents who have not received their stimulus payment can check its status or provide bank account information for direct deposit using the IRS’ “Get My Payment” tool at irs.gov.They also can call their federal representatives with questions and may email our 11th District legislative office at tinyurl.com/LD11Questions if they need their representative’s contact information.
Here are some of the other recent developments that Monmouth County residents may find helpful.
Families that need help putting food on the table can text “findfood” or “comida” to 888-918-2729 to be connected with their closest food pantries. The NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs published a webpage containing information for veterans seeking assistance and services during the health crisis on its website, nj.gov/military/veterans.
To keep up with the latest COVID-19 updates, follow us on social media. Please take note that Eric and Joann have changed their handles. You can now follow us on Facebook at @SenatorGopal and @EricAndJoann, on Twitter at @vingopal and @EricAndJoann, and on Instagram at @vin.gopal and @ericandjoann. We will continue to share information as soon as we get it.
Until next time. Stay in touch and stay safe.