July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Adapting to ‘Pandemic Unemployment’

Maybe you found out via a phone call, an email or a video chat meeting. Maybe you found out last week, yesterday or last month. No matter when or how, you may be one of the 930,000 New Jersey residents who have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are now trying to make the best of your situation.

The coronavirus relief bill signed into law toward the end of March is designed to offer pandemic unemployment assistance for those typically ineligible for unemployment. The law also provides additional unemployment compensation in the form of an additional $600 per week on top of existing benefits to those on unemployment insurance, and emergency unemployment compensation, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits to recipients.

How much will these benefits be? According to the state labor department, unemployment benefits provide 60% of average wages (those earned the year before you’ve applied), with a maximum of $713 per week, plus an additional $600 per week through July 25, due to the coronavirus relief bill. (For more information on your eligibility, please visit nj.gov/labor.)

Parents who have children attending school at home, and who are unable to go to work because they have to stay home to care for them, are also eligible for state-earned sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Some who have applied for unemployment find that their claims are still pending weeks or even months later, or that their applications have been approved but they’re still waiting on compensation, likely due to record levels of high demand.

In addition to potential financial stress, many are struggling to cope emotionally with job loss.

Rachel S., a former daycare center teacher in Teaneck, had been working for a year before she was laid off from her position at the end of March. She was approved for unemployment on April 1 but hasn’t received a check yet.

During a three-way phone call with her employer and another teacher, Rachel learned she was going to be laid off. Luckily, Rachel lives with another family member who is still employed, and only has to worry about car and phone expenses.

“It’s not a great feeling being laid off,” Rachel said. She had been holding daily Zoom sessions with her children since the quarantine began, and she has been doing what she can to keep busy. “Applying for unemployment has been a job in itself.”

Rachel has to keep a log of other jobs she’s applied for since filing for unemployment, which helps her keep her mind set on the future. She also works hard to maintain some sort of routine throughout her day, which includes exercising with YouTube videos, ordering crafts online and spending more time with her father.

While healthcare employees and grocery store workers likely have higher job security during this pandemic, others who work in less “essential” industries have found their employment to be less secure. Kim Iannarone, a master’s student with a job as a human resources assistant at Merlin Entertainments, was furloughed on April 5.

Her last task as an HR assistant turned out to be one of her most difficult. While she was informed that she was being furloughed, she was also told that she had to inform other employees that they were going to be laid off.

“I hopped on calls the next day with 10 employees,” Iannarone said. “Each one reacted so differently. A few people were understanding of the situation, and a few others were sobbing and couldn’t speak.”

Iannarone felt especially broken-hearted making those calls because many of the employees she had to let go were ones that she had hired not too long ago.

“I was more upset for my employees than I was for myself,” she said. “I had my master’s program to fall back on, so I knew I would still be doing something with my time.”

She feels grateful for the time to focus on her last year of graduate school, especially with finals approaching, and she wants to put her newfound free time to good use.

“I want to sign up for my town’s liaison team where they send individuals to go grocery shopping for older people in the community,” she said. “There’s also a soup kitchen a few towns over from me that I want to get involved with.”

Some individuals were furloughed because they were among the more recent hires at companies that needed to downsize once the economy began to take a downward turn. Iannaorone’s friend had just accepted a job offer before it was rescinded by the company due to the pandemic.

A Bergenfield resident, who chose to remain anonymous, started working for an asset management company on March 2, shortly after he accepted the offer at the end of February, before society at large realized the danger and scope of the pandemic.

“Taking over the management of a hospitality portfolio was not the ideal place to start in March,” he said.

He was furloughed on April 7, erev Pesach, about two weeks after most of the hotel staffers and management were let go.

Though being furloughed technically means his absence will only be temporary, he has a feeling he won’t be called back, and is treating the situation as a layoff.

“I was actually a bit caught off guard by it,” he said. “I thought there would be a few of us necessary to stay on and be there when things ramped back up and operations were restarted.”

Being furloughed before Pesach actually helped him take his mind off of the news enough to enjoy time with his family.

“Being forced to just ignore it for a few days of time with my family was both difficult and freeing,” he said “There are many yomim tovim where we’re stressed about what is going on at work when we can’t be there, and being at a new place would not have made that any easier. As weird as this entire Pesach was, I really did just pretend I was on vacation for the week and had an enjoyable time with my wife and children.”

He applied for unemployment, and his claim is still pending.

“It’s a bit stressful hoping I will get paid for the backlog of weeks I haven’t received,” he said.

In the meantime, he does his best to keep busy at home. He tunes into Zoom shiurim, and has offered to help friends and companies trying to navigate payroll protection program funding (loans for small businesses) and other government benefits. He is also considering taking the plunge and pursuing another career avenue in which he’s long had an interest. He also deeply treasures the time he is spending with his wife and three children.

“My two oldest have Zoom during the day, and being around for that is an enjoyable experience,” he said. “I love cooking, and we’ve been having family dinners every night and enjoying walks together. It’s the best of a lousy situation, and I’m thankful we’re able to do that.”

By Elizabeth Zakaim

 

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