By Alexandria Hoff

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Playing the waiting game. Even as the rest of the state reopens, New Jersey’s unemployment offices remain closed. It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Now, lawmakers in the Garden State are trying to change that as thousands of people are still struggling to claim their benefits.

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As businesses and public spaces open back up, state unemployment offices remain closed, as they have been since the start of the pandemic, leaving some to question if that’s why so many calls are going unanswered.

A brief issue Tuesday morning caused Pennsylvania’s unemployment hotline to become unavailable. This as Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry launched its new unemployment compensation system.

It replaces a 40-year-old system and is expected to help streamline claim filing.

Like Delaware and New Jersey, in-person service centers remain closed.

“There is a population of us who have not received any benefits,” said Sandee Free, who is struggling with an unemployment claim.

Free, of Gloucester County, worked as an administrative assistant before the pandemic. In August of 2020, she says her unemployment benefits suddenly stopped coming.

“The website can’t help all people. They have to actually speak to a person,” she said.

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For 10 months she has been trying to get in touch with someone from the New Jersey Department of Unemployment Insurance.

“You always get the message you know, ‘due to high volume we cannot help you. Try back tomorrow,'” Free said.

The state’s website reads, in part: “… Some people cannot get through online or on the phone. We understand your anxiety and frustration, and we apologize. We’re working diligently to serve all our customers and ask for your patience. Please keep trying.”

A new bill proposed this month in New Jersey calls for unemployment offices or one-stop career centers to immediately reopen, citing the need to help resolve thousands of claims.

“When are they coming back to work? They are talking about everyone else — ‘When are they coming back to work? They don’t want to go to work because of the extension.’ But where are the people that work in the unemployment offices?” Free said.

As for Free, she has been relying on family, friends, and savings — all of which are about tapped out.

“They say be patient, well I feel I’ve been patient enough,” she said.

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Free did on one occasion reach someone by phone here in New Jersey. They told her, her claim would be escalated but that action could take eight weeks. That was exactly eight weeks ago.

Alexandria Hoff