Hearing set on proposal to change N.J. rules on unemployment benefits

A hearing in New Jersey on Friday will consider whether Garden State residents on unemployment should be required to participate in certain work-seeking activities — for example checking a specific state job-search website every week.

The suggestion has raised some eyebrows.

The proposal says that “reporting and participating in work search related activities as directed, including registering for work, is the very least that a claimant can do to demonstrate that he or she is actively seeking work.”

A requirement to, for instance, check into the Jobs4Jersey website, as the plan suggests, doesn’t make sense for many job seekers, says Katie DiVito who created the group New Jersey Unemployed.

“I think it’s a waste of time. There are not a lot of jobs available on this website,” she said. “They don’t cross a wide spectrum of different industries.”

The state Department of Labor said that checking into the website is “just a pending rule proposal that would provide another option for individuals receiving unemployment benefits to demonstrate that they are looking for the work.”

But the proposal is for a new requirement.

George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project says it’s unlikely the state can handle office visits from every job seeker, so he suspects unemployed New Jerseyans would have to use the Internet in some capacity. He says when online registration and participation requirements took effect in South Carolina and Florida, thousands of people lost their benefits.

‘Assumption that everyone is online’

“Where you run into trouble is where the state requires lots of people who may not have ready Internet access, who may have language problems, who may have literacy problems, who may not be good with a computers, to fit into the same sized peg,” Wentworth said.

It’s another example of the “digital divide,” others say.

“In a lot of places, there’s sort of an assumption that everyone is online … you know sort of the state of nature in the United States right now,” says Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

“Even in 2013, one in five adults does not access the Internet,” Smith said.

In general, unemployed people tend to have less education, analysts say, though people laid off during the recession run the gamut. Just half of those who have not graduated from high school tell the Pew center they use the Internet. 

The public hearing is set for Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Labor Department’s offices in Trenton. To be added to the list of speakers, call (609) 292-2789.

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