TRENTON, NJ – It’s not every day that you see Democrats and Republicans in the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate working together, but that’s just what happened this winter as both sides came together to bail out Jersey residents. New Jersey residents have been hit harder than most in the country with the prolonged business shutdowns and restrictions imposed on small business through executive orders by Governor Phil Murphy.
To assist residents, a bipartisan group of legislators led by Monmouth County Senator Vin Gopal a Democrat, Assemblyman John Bramnick, a Republican and others proposed and successfully passed a bill to extend benefits to the state’s unemployed masses.
The bill was expected to be a stopgap when federal funding ran out, but when President Trump signed a new COVID-19 relief bill into law, it made the bill obsolete.
When the bill arrived on Murphy’s desk to sign, he gave the bill an “Absolute Veto”, rejecting it and the benefits it would have given the people of New Jersey, because he said, they are no longer necessary.
“This bill would provide eight weeks of emergency unemployment benefits during the period beginning December 22, 2020, and ending February 27, 2021, or ending the calendar week in which total expenditures of emergency unemployment benefits first exceed $350 million if the conclusion of that week occurs before February 27, 2021,” Murphy said in his veto. “The emergency unemployment benefits provided under this bill would be available to individuals who have exhausted all other unemployment benefits. The amount of the weekly emergency unemployment benefits paid to an individual would be the same as the amount the individual was paid in regular State unemployment benefits, or in pandemic unemployment assistance (“PUA”) under the CARES Act, as applicable.”
Under the bill, the benefits would be paid for by claimants entirely from the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Fund. No employer’s account would be charged for emergency unemployment benefits paid to an eligible individual pursuant to the provisions of the bill.
Senate Bill No. 3283 (First Reprint) was introduced in the Senate on December 11, 2020 and passed through both houses six days later. At the time this bill was introduced and passed, individuals were entitled to twenty-six weeks of regular unemployment compensation, thirteen additional weeks of benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”) program established by the CARES Act, and twenty weeks of extended benefits. In addition, the CARES Act provided thirty-nine weeks of PUA benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits.
Murphy said he did not sign the bill because residents of New Jersey are now covered by the latest round of federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
“During the time in December 2020 when the Legislature was considering this bill, Congress was debating the enactment of another round of stimulus relief that, among other things, would have provided an extension of increased federal unemployment benefits,” Murphy said. “There was considerable uncertainty whether Congress would reach a deal and whether President Trump would sign it. As a result, many New Jerseyans were rightfully fearful that the increased federal unemployment benefits would expire, which would have imposed another crushing blow to residents and families who had already lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic. ”
Murphy was wrong, and President Trump did sign a new COVID-19 relief bill.
The Legislature’s swift passage of this bill was intended to provide assurances that increased unemployment assistance would be available to New Jersey residents beyond December 26, 2020, regardless of whether Congress and the President were able to reach a deal. On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed a new COVID-19 relief bill that extended PEUC and PUA benefits for an additional eleven weeks. Consequently, the emergency unemployment benefits during the eight-week period provided for in this bill through February 27, 2021, are now covered by extended PEUC and PUA benefits, which run through March 14, 2021.
“These extensions ensure that more than 500,000 New Jersey residents will continue to receive critical unemployment assistance to help them stay afloat during these challenging times. As a result, this bill, while well-intentioned, is no longer necessary. Additionally, the PEUC and PUA extensions allow us to avoid the challenges associated with implementing Senate Bill No. 3283 (First Reprint), which could have jeopardized New Jersey’s Unemployment Compensation Fund,” Murphy said.