TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The fight for unemployment benefits during the pandemic has been a losing match for months for many in New Jersey.Long Island Nonprofit That Builds Homes For The Disabled Gets Overwhelming Public Support After Power Tools Stolen
“I just don’t know what to do,” said Roger Cruz. “There are no options.”
No options and no answers for Cruz.
The proud husband and father from Perth Amboy never had an issue providing for his family until he lost his job at a warehouse last spring.
Cruz’s benefits lapsed and he hasn’t gotten an unemployment check in several weeks.
“I’ve been living off credit cards,” Cruz told Layton.
But those credit cards are almost maxed out, along with his patience.
“You feel like you’re being shunned,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s struggle is not unique.
“There are people that have no money for food,” said Richard K., from West Orange.
There are tens of thousands of unemployed New Jerseyans holding on by a thread, waiting for their 11-week extension of benefits to kick in since December.
“I don’t understand how people at the Department of Labor and Governor Murphy can sleep at night, knowing that there are people that haven’t received a dime in six weeks that are going through a pandemic,” Richard said.
“Seventy-five thousand people are still waiting,” said Ann Marie Kasianis from Teaneck.
She’s an administrator on a Facebook page where every member waiting for money feels like a victim of a broken system.READ MORE: Lin-Manuel Miranda Addresses 'In The Heights' Movie Colorism Criticism
“I’ve had to call the suicide hotline on people,” Kasianis said. “It is inhumane the way unemployed are being treated. Inhumane.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the Murphy administration has asked people waiting for unemployment checks to be patient, but patience doesn’t pay the bills.
Layton went to Trenton to get answers.
“I have received countless desperate notes from people who say this unemployment system as failed them … I do wonder if there’s anybody up here who understands what it’s been like, in this pandemic, to not know where your next check is coming from, to not know if you can feed your family,” Layton said at Murphy’s press conference Friday.
“We understand it. We have nothing but empathy, sympathy. We’ll do everything we can to get to a better place as fast as we can,” Murphy said.
Robert Asaro-Angelo, the Department of Labor commissioner, says those caught in the lapse should look for an email this weekend telling them they can certify again.
“They’ll go online and certify for those weeks,” Asaro-Angelo said. “When their payment comes a couple days later, it’ll be a lump sum for all of those weeks.”
“Can you promise the people of New Jersey in this mess right now that this computer system lapse won’t happen again with the next extension?” asked Layton.
“To the best of our ability on February 5th, yes,” said Murphy.
“There’s a point where words don’t mean anything,” Cruz said.
Still, Cruz hopes promises can be kept starting now.
With so many complaints about people not being able to get through to a live person on the phone for help, Layton also asked if the call center can be open 24/7.
The labor commissioner said they are in the process of doubling the staff, but have not found the hours to be a problem.
CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.MORE NEWS: Fireworks To Honor Essential Workers Tonight As New York Lifts Most COVID Restrictions
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