The Senate Budget Committee today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senators Dawn Addiego, Joe Lagana and Vin Gopal that would extend Unemployment Insurance payments by eight weeks and continue job-sharing furlough programs.
“With Congress still negotiating a new stimulus bill and unemployment benefits starting to run out, we need to act immediately to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers who are out of work because of the pandemic are able to continue to feed their families,” said Senator Addiego (D-Burlington), the bill’s prime sponsor. “The extra eight weeks of unemployment eligibility starts Monday and will be a welcome relief to struggling families facing a difficult holiday season.”
Senator Addiego expressed optimism that S-3283, which provides expanded unemployment insurance coverage from December 20 through February 27, 2021, would pass both the Senate and the Assembly on Thursday and be sent to the Governor to be quickly signed into law.
The bill also extends the Employee Job-Sharing Work Furlough Act past December 31, when supplemental federal payments are scheduled to end without further action by Congress, and specifically authorizes use of the furlough program to rehire previously laid-off workers who have been collecting unemployment.
“It is crucial that we continue this program that enables employers to keep more of their workers on the payroll part-time and to slowly transition workers they previously laid off back into the workforce as the economy improves,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Workers in the furlough program get more money each week from their part-time pay and partial unemployment benefits than they would get by staying on unemployment.”
The extended benefits in the bill will come at no cost to employers and will be provided as a stopgap measure that will be replaced by federal funding if similar programs are covered in any new federal stimulus legislation.
While the Legislature previously authorized an additional 20 weeks of unemployment coverage that will enable those put out of work last March at the start of the coronavirus shutdown to continue to receive benefits through April, thousands of workers who had lost their jobs earlier were already starting to exhaust their benefits, and there is no guarantee that gig workers or a new furlough program will be included in any new federal program.
New Jersey previously enacted similar state-funded temporary emergency unemployment extensions for 13 weeks in 1991 and 1996 and for 10 weeks in 2001-2002.
While a series of reforms were enacted to protect the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund after the Great Recession of 2007-2008, the fund’s $2.4 billion surplus was depleted because 1.8 million New Jersey workers filed for benefits this year. The $500 million the state has borrowed from the federal government to shore up the depleted fund pales in comparison to the $16.7 billion borrowed by California and $8.9 billion by New York State.