When it comes to the extension of unemployment benefits, timing is everything. Even though former President Donald Trump signed a stimulus bill just before leaving office, the delay in its signing has caused many citizens across New Jersey to see lapses in crucial unemployment benefits. Gov. Phil Murphy addressed these concerns at his COVID-19 media briefing while giving an overall update on the state’s efforts to help those who are out of work.
“The numbers have seen a drop of just over 2,000 (initial claims) from the prior week and our third consecutive weekly decrease,” he said. “God knows, though, for the folks who are there — they are not a number. It’s their lives. It’s their challenges. 14,606 is still 14,606 too many.”
The 14,606 number Murphy referenced is the number of initial claims made last week, according to statistics released Thursday by the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development. That is a decrease from the previous week of just over 2,000 claims. In total since March, 1,985,500 new claims have been filed for unemployment benefits.
On the financial side, New Jersey claimants have received $22 billion in payments in total. It averages out to $15,167 in benefits per person; 54% of claimants have received more than $25,000 in benefits and New Jersey has distributed more funds than 43 other states.
However, despite these promising numbers, the governor still recognizes that many residents are frustrated by the lapse they see while his office continues to report better numbers.
“Many claimants are also transitioning seamlessly to the 11-week extension of benefits authorized under the Continued Assistance Act,” Murphy said. “However, as we are aware, roughly 75,000 residents whose original benefits have ended are experiencing a lapse and are waiting for benefits to restart.
“When there is a big shift in policy, especially from the federal government, it requires a system shift.”
Murphy was joined at his press conference by Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo, who said he shares the frustrations of those looking for their benefits.
“Believe me when I say I am frustrated, as well, and so is our entire team,” he said. “Unfortunately, the frustrations our workers are feeling are taking place all over the nation as a result of last-minute federal action. 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 without delay.”
Other notes from Friday’s COVID-19 briefing:
As of Friday morning, New Jersey is reporting 3,723 new positive cases confirmed via PCR tests, for a cumulative total since March of 637,357 cases. Antigen tests have confirmed an additional 712 cases, for a total of 75,967 cases.
In hospitals throughout the state Thursday, 436 COVID patients were discharged, while an additional 377 were newly admitted. There were 54 deaths in hospitals Thursday as well that are awaiting lab-confirmation.
The governor also confirmed that there have now been 93 deaths that have been newly confirmed to be from COVID-related complications. That makes for a total of 19,699 New Jerseyans lost to COVID since March. Another 2,187 deaths remain classified as “probable.”
Other hospital numbers:
- In hospital: 2,916 (2,714 confirmed, 202 awaiting confirmation);
- In ICU: 515;
- On ventilators: 349;
- Rate of transmission: 92;
- Positivity rate: 83% (from Feb. 1).
As vaccine distribution continues throughout New Jersey, the number of dosages administered is close to hitting the 1 million mark — 925,579 total vaccine doses have been given to residents as of Friday.
“I know everyone watches these numbers very carefully,” Murphy said. “Let’s make one thing that they show particularly clear — they are not only growing, but the rate of growth is picking up steam. In the past week, the number of initial doses has increased by more than 135,400. That’s a 22% increase week-over-week.”
The governor continued to clarify that, out of the total listed above, 745,552 first vaccine doses have been given, while 179,956 second doses have gone into the arms of residents. The number of residents who have gotten both doses of the vaccine continues to increase, as well — there was an increase of 69,258 in the past week alone.
“What we’re seeing is a clear and sustained growth pattern,” Murphy said. “We’ve only been administering second doses for about four weeks. Those who have been receiving their first doses, outside of our health care worker and first responder populations, are only now coming in for their second dose.”
The vaccine mega sites set up all over the state are increasing their distribution as well. On Thursday, over 10,000 doses were administered at these sites, which averages out to just over 1,800 doses per site.
While this these numbers are good, Murphy understands that the inclement weather might have had something to do with this increased number.
“Some of these, in fairness, were shots that had been rescheduled due to the snowstorm,” he said. “However, it does prove that we have the capacity. Let’s be clear … this is clearly forward progress being made against intense scarcity. … That’s not perfect, by any means. We need more supply. But the rate of growth is encouraging.”
As sites across New Jersey continue full steam ahead, Murphy is already looking ahead to who will be next in line.
“As our vaccine supply increases, we know we’ll be able to put more people in the queue,” he said. “At the head of the list are our educators, so we can support our school districts in moving quickly toward an in-person learning environment.”
Murphy on the increase in indoor dining capacity to 35%:
“We’re able to make this happen for one reason — it’s because of the work that millions of you have put in to help stop the spread of this virus, which has lowered the number of residents in our hospitals especially. Let’s hope it stays that way.”