By CBSNewYork Team

LINDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — So many people in New Jersey are still waiting on unemployment benefits, and some never received it at all as thousands continue to struggle through the pandemic.

For dance instructor Robert Vail, getting back into a Linden studio after COVID abruptly closed the doors last spring has been an escape from the stress caused by not receiving a single penny yet from New Jersey unemployment.

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“I don’t make a lot of money, but when I do, I really want to be saving it. I was proud of the money I had saved,” he told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.

But the 29-year-old has nearly depleted that savings and feels like he has nowhere to turn.

“Calling, calling, calling multiple numbers,” he said. “You just get desperate”

A contractor from Toms River knows the feeling. After his remodeling jobs dried up during the pandemic, he did receive a couple weeks’ worth of unemployment checks, but then says he was closed out of the system with no warning or explanation.

“When you pay into a system for 47 years, you kind of count on it to be there when you need it,” he said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

They’re not alone. Others say bills aren’t getting paid and they’re swamped in debt.

“Depleted my savings I don’t know what I am going to do to survive,” one person said.

“I’m at a breaking point. Please help,” another person said.

No money and no answers. CBS2 took the concerns straight to the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor.

“Some still haven’t gotten a dime. How is that possible?” Layton asked Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.

“The different factors that can affect your eligibility are almost endless, and it’s very frustrating for claimants who think they’re eligible,” Asaro-Angelo said.

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The commissioner says since last March, the state has paid out more than $21 billion to 1.5 million New Jersey residents.

He says 96% of people determined to be eligible have received benefits of some kind and 70% have received more than $20,000.

The department says the majority of those having trouble are people with complex claims. They have wages in more than one state, were working various jobs or are in a dispute with employer over why they’re no longer working.

“What changes need to be made in New Jersey to make this a friendlier process for the people going through it?” Layton asked.

“Honestly, I’m not trying to deflect blame because we can do better … but in the end, like I said, we’re implementing a federal system,” Asaro-Angelo said.

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What about getting a live person on the phone?

“We’ve more that tripled our staff working on this problem,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Keep trying, keep calling.”

Vail says that’s what he’s done. He admits he did have a complex claim working in two states, but nobody will tell him how to fix it.

“The system doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for people,” he said.

It’s a rude awakening in the midst of a time people need the system to work the most.

CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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