The New Jersey Department of Labor, which has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Garden State, is the target of yet another proposed law being advanced by state legislators.

Legislation approved by committees in both the Assembly and the Senate would require the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to issue annual public reports regarding its ability to process claims and keep up with similar departments in other states.

The measure, which is sponsored by legislators on both sides of the political aisle, also calls for any reports to mention major issues that had been uncovered over the prior four quarters, as well as possible solutions.

"Let's learn our lessons from the pandemic and not repeat them," said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, which has announced its support for the proposed law.

The Department of Labor has been bombarded with millions of requests for unemployment assistance since the pandemic started making impacts in New Jersey in spring 2020. Massive backlogs and complaints from jobless residents made headlines for several months, and the department was still answering questions in 2022 about delays.

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Inundated by calls and emails from frustrated constituents, New Jersey lawmakers have crafted a number of bills that aim to improve the performance of the unemployment benefits system. One would require that all claims be handled within two weeks; another would ensure that residents speak to a live person when they call.

Egenton said the annual-report bill would hopefully improve transparency and give employers a better idea of what's happening on the state level. Looking at the bigger picture, he said, several state agencies in New Jersey are operating under very antiquated computer systems.

"The longer that can gets kicked down the road and delayed, the more expensive it will be to bring that system into a place where it won't crash and burn," Egenton said.

Under the bill, the report would include information on, among other things:

  • Timeliness of benefits payments and appeals over the prior year
  • How New Jersey stacks up to national standards
  • Number and salaries of individuals who work to process unemployment claims
  • How federal funds are used and how much is left over
  • Ways to improve the system and significant issues that need addressing

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