TRENTON — New Jersey’s labor commissioner expressed frustration Friday over the course of events that held up emergency unemployment benefits for 75,000 state residents but said he expects the delayed pandemic payments to be processed by next week.
The $900 billion stimulus bill signed by then-President Donald J. Trump on Dec. 27, had extended the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits program, which was to expire Dec. 31, to March 14, 2021.
However, the delay between passage of the bill by Congress on Dec. 21 and its signing into law, benefits lapsed causing a $17 billion gap in funding nationwide, including in New Jersey creating a lag for reinstatement that continues, according to State Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. He said his department expects to have pending claims processed retroactively by Feb . 12.
“Former President Trump signed the stimulus at the last moment, not giving states enough time to program their systems for the 11-week expansion for all claimants,” Commissioner Asaro-Angelo said.
“If they had not waited just weeks before the expiration date they knew was looming for months, states would have the time needed to keep benefits for some from lapsing at all. “
Since last March, the state has paid out $22 billion to 1.5 million claimants in New Jersey, with each claimant receiving about $15,000 in benefits on average.
Vaccination numbers updated
On Friday, the state announced that it was nearing the 1 million vaccinations mark, with 925,579 shots being administered since last December — about 745,000 first doses and 179,000 second doses.
Over the past week, the number of initial doses has increased by more than 130,000 first doses, officials said.
The number of second doses administered has also increased substantially throughout January, Gov. Phil Murphy said. From Jan. 8 to Jan. 15 roughly 30,000-second doses were administered. This past week, that number was more than 69,000.
“What we see is a clear and sustaining growth pattern,” the governor said, adding that that state is trying to “maximize every dose” provided by the federal government.
“We clearly need more doses,” he said, but added that the Biden administration “is doing a great job moving the needle in the right direction.”
Given the short supply, Gov. Murphy welcomed Thursday’s announcement that Johnson & Johnson has applied to the Federal Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization for their single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines currently in use in the U.S, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require two doses taken roughly three weeks apart.
A phase 3 trial conducted in eight countries around the world, showed that the J&J vaccine had an overall effectiveness of 66 percent at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 and an 85 percent effectiveness at preventing severe disease, also demonstrating complete protection against related hospitalization and death 28 days after innoculation.
According to information from the state health department, more than 70,000 doses had been administered in Monmouth County and more than 56,000 in Ocean County as of Friday.
Monmouth County trails only Bergen County with 102,248 and Essex County with 72,856 doses administered.
Also on Friday, Gov. Murphy held a joint press conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to highlight the need for the federal pandemic aid to both states.
The two governors said that New York and New Jersey, among the first to suffer the adverse impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, had also accumulated the experience that enabled other states to better prepare for what was to come.
“We were clobbered, with you and Connecticut,” Gov. Murphy told Gov Cuomo, addin “that must be taken into account,” Gov. Murphy said.
Both governors also called on Congress to repel to State and Local Tax Deduction [SALT], which limits the amount that can be deducted from property taxes up to $10,000. The change came into effect in 2017, severely impacting New Jersey and New York residents, who pay some of the highest property tax rates in the country.
“Every day that SALT is still in place, you have people paying more in taxes than they should be paying,” Gov. Cuomo said.
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