By BRETT FRIEDENSOHN Staff Writer, July 20, 2020
Morristown resident Linda Corigliano says she should’ve started a job straight out of studying to work in skin care.
She finished her classes online in late March through a grant from the New Jersey Division of Unemployment and Workforce Development. But since then, she’s had to wait for the State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling to reopen and start testing and issuing licenses again.
Corigliano had banked on starting work as an esthetician quickly since her unemployment insurance ran out in February.
When she filed again after school, she found that she hadn’t qualified for standard unemployment benefits but did qualify for the pandemic unemployment assistance plan under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. When she received it, however, the first $3,000 or so went straight to a closed bank account.
Corigliano tried calling the Division of Unemployment, a DOL subsidiary, but she got a standard message telling her to call back another time. When she sent emails, auto-response told her the office was too busy to respond.
So in early May, Corigliano called the office of state Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, who has been trying to relay messages to the offices ever since.
As it turned out, Corigliano’s was just one of about 1,100 cases Bucco’s office has been handling.
Bucco said in an interview that his staff is working every day to process new inquiries as well as follow up on older ones to make sure that applicants are either back at work or still collecting unemployment.
The senator also said that the DOL still doesn’t have its system working effectively and efficiently. Often, his staff is finding that applicants can’t verify a certain month or push the wrong button on their computer and they get kicked out of the system.
“And let me tell you, once that occurs, you’re in big trouble because there’s nobody to call out there to talk to,” Bucco said.
In Corigliano’s case, the first time anyone from the DOL answered about her case was when Bucco started sending emails to them.
Once she finally got a response, Bucco’s office helped her get the information about how unemployment could verify that the $3,000 sent to the closed account got back to the DOL. The office then backed Corigliano’s payments.
Still, her landlord is threatening to evict her for not paying rent.
“Sen. Bucco was instrumental in getting that corrected information to someone at unemployment,” Corigliano said. “Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened. I need a way to contact them. I don’t know why they can’t have a help desk and have someone take calls or emails or something.”
Besides handling CARES issues, the pandemic has kept Bucco busy in other ways. Recently he participated in two food drives, one organized by Table of Hope at the County College of Morris in Randolph, and the other organized by I Am Morristown in Dover.
He said that the lines never slowed and that shows how recent unemployment has caused people to choose between basic necessities such as housing, food and health care.
He said the situation in New Jersey has not gotten better recently, in part because restaurants started to hire their staff back as they thought that they could reopen indoor dining.
Gov. Phil Murphy paused his plans to permit indoor dining on Monday, June 29 and cited recent spikes in states that had allowed it as well as instances in New Jersey of restaurants failing to enforce social distancing guidelines. Outdoor dining remains permitted.
Bucco said that he thinks that Murphy made his decision based on a few restaurants around the state that broke the rules.
“I think those restaurants, those individual establishments should have been punished, not the entire industry,” Bucco said.