With the national economy continuing to improve, a growing number of states have started reducing the amount of unemployment benefits their residents can receive.

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New Jersey is not one of them.

Six years ago, as the Great Recession was winding down, all states offered 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, and the federal government offered a series of unemployment insurance (UI) extensions totaling 99 weeks. Now,  all of that federal support has ended, and several states, including Missouri, North and South Carolina, Florida and Michigan have cut the number of weeks people can collect unemployment benefits to 20 weeks or less.

According to Hal Wirths, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Garden State is still offering 26 weeks of UI benefits, and the total maximum payout has increased from the $600 in 2010 to $657.

He explained the amount of money people can receive in unemployment benefits and the length of time they can collect is determined by a formula approved by the New Jersey Legislature.

“The reason you see the increase in the UI benefits is our maximum benefit rate is calculated using the state average weekly salary,” Wirths said. “As the average weekly salary has gone up in New Jersey, that is the reason why the UI amount has increased from $600 maximum to $657.”

Wirths pointed out six years ago more than 400 thousand people in the Garden State were collecting unemployment, the jobless rate was at 9.8 percent, and New Jersey’s UI trust fund was in dire straits, almost $2 billion in the red.

Things are much different now.

The trust fund has been replenished, thanks to cracking down on fraud and mandating the money in the fund only be used to provide unemployment benefits for people who are out of work.

“We’ve stopped over $650 million from being stolen from the UI trust fund and we’ve recovered, just in federal income taxes alone in the last couple of years alone, over $90 million,” he said. “We got the UI trust fund solvent a couple of years ago, we’re now more than $1.2 billion in the black.”

He said that will trigger a tax cut for New Jersey employers later this spring.

Wirths pointed out the benefit rate paid by New Jersey, which is higher than neighboring states, is an important lifeline.

“It’s a safety net for people who lose their job due to no fault of their own and during tough times, and anybody could be in that position,” he said.

Wirths also noted our UI benefit rate is higher than neighboring states because “New Jersey is an expensive place to live in.”

He added the unemployed can visit a state Department of Labor One Stop Employment Center, to get help finding a job as quickly as possible.

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