Marc Pfeiffer, Bloustein School senior policy fellow and assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center, is one of several experts featured in Bergen County Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese’s first episode of Meet Clint, which presents a “unique Jersey voice” on New Jersey culture, politics and other issues.
“Where’s My Unemployment?” (which starts about the 6:20 mark) explains why the New Jersey Department of Labor failed to keep up with the demand of unemployment claims in the early days of the pandemic, and why it struggled to catch up.
“This wasn’t a situation where the governor says, in 30 days we need to shut down the economy to control the spread of the virus and businesses are going to have to close,” said Marc. “Nobody had that warning. It was, BOOM. And the system was not designed to deal with that.”
Marc is also asked to explain why it was so difficult for the NJDOL to implement changes. “In a normal state government system, anything for a state service like motor vehicles, we control the rules. The federal unemployment system doesn’t work that way,” he says. “We’re administering federal laws that have a state component to them. So if they say, hey, here’s a new law; we wrote it in a week and a half…the agency is now going to spend a couple of weeks figuring out what it means and give advice to all 50 states on how to implement it…. That’s a challenge.”
He also provides information about why upgrading the NJDOL technology in the middle of a pandemic is not the best answer to solving the problems. “This is a great media story. You’ve got this 30-to-40-year old system. It’s old and we’ve got all this new stuff and we should just replace it. But that’s not the right answer. The world is littered with failed systems that just didn’t work when that happened. I think organizations should say, okay, how do we deal with what we have, and what is our goal? The goal shouldn’t be a new technology system. Our goal should be what is the best way to meet the demands of our citizens, clients, and constituents.”
Comments from Paulette Laubsch, a professor of public administration and former Assistant Commissioner at the Department of Labor, and Rob Asaro-Angelo, Commissioner, NJ Department of Labor, are also featured in the episode.