By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
Optimism remains one of the best personal tools for getting through difficult times.
It’s been tough to remain positive amid the restrictions that the pandemic has imposed on the way we live and work over the past 10 months. However, there are more reasons now to remain optimistic as new vaccines continue to come on the market and more federal aid, including unemployment benefits, is likely to arrive soon.
We know many residents have been worried that their unemployment insurance benefits would expire at the end of 2020. The State Assembly and Senate unanimously passed our bill extending unemployment benefits for eight weeks from December 22, 2020 to February 27, 2021.
The incoming administration in Washington has announced plans to increase the availability of vaccination sites and ramp up vaccination production in the weeks ahead. We will continue to push for more federal COVID-19 relief funding. We also are working with our nonprofit partners and state government to increase the opportunities for Legislative District 11 residents who wish to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the state has begun vaccinating people in Phase 1A of its vaccination distribution plan, which includes paid and unpaid workers in health care settings as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities. You can find the state’s vaccine distribution plan on the NJ COVID-19 Information Hub at covid19.nj.gov.
There also is positive news from the U.S. Department of Labor for people who have lost their jobs, which advised the state Department of Labor last week that there would be no lapse for workers receiving federal COVID-19 related benefits this week through March 13. That includes people claiming regular unemployment as well as those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) such as self-employed, gig and part-time workers.
One of the proactive things that residents and small business owners can do to improve their chances of getting federal aid this year is to file 2020 tax returns as early as possible since many programs ask for last year’s tax returns as proof of income.
We also will continue to advocate for residents with the state Department of Labor to make improvements in communicating with people seeking unemployment benefits. This has been a source of frustration for many residents and for hard-working labor department employees trying to help an unprecedented number of people filing claims.
Our Constituent Services Team in the Legislative District 11 office is working every day to help residents stuck in unemployment limbo. The team also is assisting residents who are having difficulty paying utility bills and rent or facing the threat of eviction. If you need assistance, please email us at email@example.com.
The Constituent Services Team also is continuing to help the most needy with efforts such as our current “Socks for the Homeless” drive to collect socks for shelters and other nonprofit organizations to distribute to people in need. We ask that you mail new socks in all adult and children’s sizes through the end of February to our Legislative District 11 Office at 802 West Park Ave., Suite 302, Ocean Township, NJ 07712. While our staff is working remotely, if you need to drop off “Socks for the Homeless” in person, please call our office at (732) 695-3371 and a team member will get back to you to make arrangements.
Let’s all stay positive and determined as we go into 2021 to treat each other kindly as we get through this together.