At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were new or adjusted state and federal laws, programs, and benefits designed to help workers in New Jersey. But most people were unfamiliar with these new rights and emergency flexibilities within unemployment insurance, and entirely new benefits programs, like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The State of New Jersey wanted to reduce confusion, and help workers navigate the system and take action to maximize the amount of benefits received. And with between 10 and 20 times the normal amount of people applying for benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, they wanted to move quickly.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and the New Jersey Office of Innovation wanted to build a web-based tool to help workers understand their rights and eligibility for benefits programs. Whether someone was laid off, furloughed, self-employed, caring for a family member with COVID-19, or caring for children during mandatory remote learning, there were many circumstances under which a New Jersey worker might need to understand their employment rights or seek benefits. The State wanted to provide a holistic view of its available resources and make it easier for workers to be directed to the right information and programs.
“Over and over again we have heard from people that they are so grateful this tool exists. It is truly serving folks in their time of need. It was great to work with [USDR].”
— Holly Low, Manager of Strategic Outreach, New Jersey Department of Labor
U.S. Digital Response partnered with the State to create a custom benefits screener tool that asks a few simple questions and then suggests, in priority order, which benefits programs a New Jersey worker can apply for based on eligibility.
The technology for the benefits screener tool was based off of USDR’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program demo. We deployed and served the tool through GitHub, which allowed it to go live quickly, and eventually be handed over to the State of New Jersey to manage for the long-term.
We launched the benefits screener tool in April of 2020 and updated it multiple times throughout the year to reflect new benefits and eligibility rules.
With just under 60,000 unique users to date, this simple eligibility screener is still live and has had two macro positive effects. First, it has helped New Jersey workers understand their employment rights and their eligibility for benefits programs, many of which are new. This has increased the likelihood of people applying for the correct programs and getting the maximum amount of benefits allowed, as soon as possible.
Second, because workers can use this online tool, they have been less likely to call the New Jersey Department of Labor to understand their eligibility. This has freed up employees to focus on helping those with more complicated cases and actually processing benefits claims.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our partners wanted to do everything they could to help New Jersey workers understand and receive benefits. I’m proud that our USDR team quickly created a tool that was easy for our partners to implement and even easier for people to use. It feels like we made a real impact.”
— Eric Blomstrom, USDR Project Lead
The USDR team is available, on a pro-bono basis, to help nonprofits and governments respond to their communities’ most critical needs.
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