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New Jersey Senator Wants Department Of Labor To Assign Claims Handlers To Legislative Offices To Assist Constituents

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Despite promising economic news, unemployment is still higher than it was a year ago, but help could be on the way for people in New Jersey who have been trying to get assistance and keep hitting a brick wall.

"I've never been unemployed in my life ever," Atlantic County resident Tara Cruser said, crying. "It feels bad."

These are the tears of a mother whose feeling of self-worth is sadly running out.

"I just feel hopeless," she told CBS2's Jessica Layton.

Cruser is one of thousands who lost her job during the pandemic waiting for a check from the New Jersey Department of Labor.

She's still hitting road blocks in the journey to get some answers on an unexplained error message from when she filed a claim reading, "Your certification cannot be processed."

"And I'm trying to be positive and all that, but man, it's just... just at least tell us, you know what I mean, Jess?" Cruser said.

"There was the fear of being evicted then, and also, I didn't eat for about, like, two weeks in the first two weeks of December," Jersey City resident Tommy Coleman said.

He admits, being an independent contractor, his claim is complicated. He was promised a call back at the end of last year.

"To this day, nobody has contacted me ... and I don't have the amount of time to wait the way I did before," he said.

Granted, the volume of people the Department of Labor is trying to help is unprecedented and it's paid out more than $25 billion in benefits since last March, but the criticism that the office is unresponsive has been one of the biggest complaints since the pandemic began.

"They're desperate. They have nowhere else to turn," Sen. Nick Scutari said.

Scutari says his office is inundated with phone calls pleading for help every day. He's sponsoring a bill that would require the DOL to assign claims handlers to legislative offices so his staff can help those constituents who feel ignored.

"People are still being stonewalled, not being able to get the service that our taxpayers require and deserve," he said.

So what does the state say? CBS2 has tried emailing and calling, trying to get answers from the DOL for several days, to no avail.

That lack of communication is precisely the problem for so many people.

"I would like them to know that this has been the most difficult process I've ever been involved in," Coleman said.

"What do you say to them?" Layton asked.

"Don't BS me. Tell me the truth," Cruser said. "Just give me a phone call."

CBS2's Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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