New Jersey has used millions in federal funding to overhaul its Unemployment Insurance system — cutting down on wait times and frustrations for users which hit a breaking point during the COVID pandemic.

Gov. Phil Murphy was joined by U.S. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su, state Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo and state Chief Innovation Officer Dave Cole in outlining the new application on Tuesday.

NJDOL Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo, Gov. Phil Murphy, Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su , NJ CIO Dave Cole
NJDOL Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo, Gov. Phil Murphy, Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su , NJ CIO Dave Cole
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The new system has been designed to be more streamlined, less confusing, more intuitive, and can be accessed easily on any mobile device, not just a desktop computer, Murphy said.

Users can save draft applications, allowing them to return and finish at a later time — and the entire system has been made available in Spanish, for the first time.

Some other key takeaways during a virtual press conference on the overdue upgrade include:

🔲 ID verification issues have seen a 10% reduction since the new app was first tested

🔲 75% of UI claimants now resolve their own issues using new call center menus and web tools

🔲 Changes made piece-by-piece, in an agile approach that allows for continual updates

🔲 The new system was tested at peak usage during COVID and was able to handle it, Cole says

New Jersey and Arkansas were the first states in the nation picked to update their respective unemployment insurance systems, Su said, to be followed by another 18 states.

The new, agile system — which has been updated in pieces — has a cloud-based call center, to allow for quicker response for users, according to both Asaro-Angelo and Cole.

Unemployment app claim (Nj.gov, Canva)
Unemployment app claim (Nj.gov, Canva)
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Storm of COVID hits old UI system

The governor said the need for the overhaul became most apparent during a "time that nobody misses," at the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Su likened the outdated UI system to a leaky roof — okay for day-to-day managing during clear weather, but the storm of COVID made its weaknesses glaringly apparent.

Nearly 156,000 New Jersey residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits in the week of March 16, 2020.

That was a 16-fold increase from the week before and more than three times greater than any week in the 34 years of record-keeping before the pandemic.

RELATED: Nearly 156,000 in NJ file for unemployment — up over 1,500% 

Nationally, nearly 3.3 million initial unemployment claims were submitted. The previous all-time high was 695,000.

A total of 27 states saw their unemployment insurance computer systems crash in the early days of the pandemic.

Su said that while it is easy to remember the huge issues, what unemployment claims were paid helped sped up the economic recovery that we’ve seen since COVID.

During the pandemic, states were left to battle fraud on their own, she continued — it didn’t work, there was no coordinated response, and now the approach is federally-led.

In 2021, New Jersey was one of two states, along with Arkansas, selected to try out the Claimant Experience Pilot. That launched the partnership to modernize the unemployment insurance system, with "extensive user testing at every stage."

At that point, in March 2021 — as many as 20,000 people a week were being denied claims because they were accidentally providing the wrong answers to a federally mandated questionnaire.

Asaro-Angelo said that while we all went through that public health emergency together, anytime a person loses their job, it is an emergency to them, their family and their community.

The new website, now launched for all devices, can be found at myunemployment.nj.gov.

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