TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Christopher P. DePhillips will introduce a resolution urging Gov. Phil Murphy to require the state Labor Department to make recommendations within two weeks on how to replace the state’s decades-old computer system that is struggling to handle the flood of insurances claims.
“It is unacceptable that the government is causing mass unemployment, but can’t take care of the unemployed in a timely manner,” said DePhillips (R-Bergen). “We need to take a deep dive into the system, and figure out how to fix this problem and how much it will cost. This problem cannot happen again.”
The unemployment system runs on a legacy mainframe, using old programming language COBOL, or Common Business-Oriented Language, which was created in the 1950s in conjunction with the Department of Defense. COBOL is still used today by some financial companies, government agencies and ATMs, but most universities have not offered it in their curriculum since before 2000.
Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo said the department will open a call center to help people with ongoing problems. Over 300,000 people who have filed for unemployment still have not received benefits. There is no timetable for when the call center will open.
“We are at a point where the Department of Labor can do the job or it can’t; and right now it seems like it can’t,” said DePhillips. “It doesn’t matter how much we care or how much we try, it matters that the job gets done. We can’t be failing hundreds-of-thousands of people daily. Sympathy and empathy don’t cut it. Results do.”
To help handle traffic, the department has set up two four-hour windows to certify claims every day, and has begun assigning days that correspond with the last four digits of claimant’s social security numbers. As of last week, it was estimated that over a quarter-million people are still waiting for a response from the department.
“Governor Murphy has a choice to make. Open up the economy responsibly and safely so people can get back to work, or fix this broken system so they can get their benefits,” concluded DePhillips. “This is a paramount priority.”