TRENTON – Still sifting through unemployment claims filed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced what it calls “the first of many improvements” to streamline the filing process.

Updating the online application — allowing workers to apply easily from a mobile phone — as well as improving accessibility for users are part of a federal improvement pilot, state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a written release.

The upgrades were “made possible by American Rescue Plan funds and the advocacy of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation," he continued.

One underlying issue has been some application questions being frequently misunderstood.

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Unclear answers caused applicants to have to wait to find out if they were eligible for benefits. In the meantime, the state could not release payments until the worker clarified their answers.

Simplified questions, bigger text and answer buttons and the introduction of “helper text” are among the first round of improvements, after state and federal government teams worked alongside New Jerseyans and watched the process in "real-time," according to Asaro-Angelo.

User-testing involving New Jersey workers and unemployment insurance applicants helped the state revise the system, multiple times.

At a Senate hearing in March, Asaro-Angelo said the confusing system was a main part of residents’ frustration — as was the fact that about 20% of people who file claims for benefits aren’t eligible – more than 400,000 in the two years since COVID hit.

He also said the state has had to follow protocols supported by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I’m deeply grateful that Secretary Walsh and USDOL have the faith in New Jersey to partner with us on this remarkable modernization project,” Asaro-Angelo said in the same written release.

The state labor website currently has a Step-by-Step guide that involves 15 points — from reading up on pandemic era frequently asked questions to what to expect when benefits end.

Last month, the state labor department started scheduling in-person appointments, for the first time since March 2020, to help people having trouble with their unemployment claims.

Appointments are carried out at 12 of the state’s One-Stop Career Center locations.

No walk-ins are being served.

With previous reporting by Michael Symons

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