NJ Senator Sponsors Bill Requiring Department Of Labor To Assign Claims Handlers To Legislative Offices

Despite promising economic news, unemployment is still higher than it was a year ago, but help could be on the way for people in New Jersey who have been trying to get assistance and keep hitting a brick wall; CBS2's Jessica Layton reports.

Video Transcript

MAURICE DUBOIS: Despite promising economic news, unemployment is still higher than a year ago. But help could be on the way for people in New Jersey who have been trying to get assistance but keep hitting a brick wall. Here's CBS 2's Jessica Layton.

TARA CRUSER: I've never been unemployed in my life, ever. It feels bad.

JESSICA LAYTON: These are the tears of a mother whose feeling of self-worth is sadly running out.

TARA CRUSER: I just feel hopeless.

JESSICA LAYTON: One of thousands who lost her job during the pandemic, waiting for a check from the New Jersey Department of Labor, Tara Cruser is still hitting roadblocks in the journey to get some answers on this unexplained error message from when she filed a claim.

TARA CRUSER: And I'm trying to be positive and all that, but man, it's-- it's just-- just at least tell us, you know what I mean, Jess?

TOMMY COLEMAN: There was a fear of being evicted then. And then also, I didn't eat for about, like, two weeks in the first two weeks of December.

JESSICA LAYTON: Tommy Coleman admits being an independent contractor, his claim is complicated. He was promised a call back at the end of last year.

TOMMY COLEMAN: To this day, nobody has contacted me, and I don't have the amount of time to wait the way I did before.

JESSICA LAYTON: Granted, the volume of people the Department of Labor is trying to help is unprecedented, and it has paid out more than $25 billion in benefits since last March. But the criticism that the office is unresponsive has been one of the biggest complaints since the pandemic began.

NICK SCUTARI: They're desperate, they-- they have nowhere else to turn.

JESSICA LAYTON: Senator Nick Scutari says his office is inundated with phone calls pleading for help every day. He's sponsoring a bill that would require the DOL to assign claims handlers to legislative offices so his staff can help those constituents who feel ignored.

NICK SCUTARI: People are still being stonewalled, not being able to get the service that our taxpayers require and deserve.

JESSICA LAYTON: So what does the state say? We've tried emailing and calling--

We have been trying to get some answers from the Department of Labor for several days.

--to no avail. That lack of communication is precisely the problem for so many people.

TOMMY COLEMAN: I would like them to know that this has been the most difficult process I've ever been involved in.

JESSICA LAYTON: What do you say to them?

TARA CRUSER: Don't BS me. Tell me the truth. Just give me a phone call.

JESSICA LAYTON: Jessica Layton, CBS 2 News.