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NJ Lawmakers Approve Unemployment Website Upgrade

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Job seeker James Dickson is seen at a career training center operated by the New York Department of Labor in Harlem - New York, NY - Dec 3, 2010 - Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Job seeker James Dickson is seen at a career training center (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – New Jersey’s unemployment insurance website may soon be getting an upgrade.

The state Legislature recently passed a measure mandating that the Labor Department rework the site so jobless residents can access claims information anytime.

Currently, claimants can only file for benefits online during normal business hours and only on certain days. The measure’s proponents say that makes no sense, especially with so many people out of work and seeking assistance.

The measure passed the Assembly and Senate without opposition on Jan. 10. It now goes to Gov. Chris Christie for his consideration, but it’s not known if or when he will sign the bill.

Proponents say it would make the claims process more efficient for the state and easier for those seeking to file or modify claims.

“With unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, it’s no wonder the current system is inundated,” said Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Pou and other officials say contacting the department by phone is often difficult, with many callers hearing only a recorded message telling them to call back later due to long wait times.

They also note that those seeking to cancel or close their claims must make appointments to speak with a service representative, and those appointments usually can’t be scheduled for several weeks.

“By shifting to a fully available online system we can alleviate a great deal of stress for our out-of-work residents and also help the Labor Department better handle the increased demand for unemployment services,” Pou said.

It’s not yet clear how much the website upgrade would cost. The governor could veto part or all of the bill. He also could send it back to lawmakers with proposed changes.

“The department is working to meet the terms of this bill and is developing an estimate, which will depend ultimately on the bill’s final version, if and when it becomes law,” said Kerri Gatling, a labor department spokeswoman. “The bill has an implementation period of 120 days after becoming law and the department fully expects to meet this timeframe.”

Besides Pou, other primary sponsors in the Assembly were fellow Democrats Wayne DeAngelo of Hamilton, Celeste Riley of Bridgeton, Peter J. Barnes III of Edison and Connie Wagner of Paramus.

In the senate, it was sponsored by Democrats James Beach of Voorhees and Linda Greenstein of Hamilton (Mercer County).

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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