Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
A little rain didn’t dampen Yudania Fries’ spirits, but what did bother her was hearing that her federal unemployment benefits would be cut soon.
“They’re cutting everyone. Its not fair, not at all,” said Fries, a Newark resident. “It’s hard for us to look for a job. We don’t find a job and then the little thing that we have, they cut it off..”
She’s not alone. Tens of thousands of New Jersey residents receive federal emergency unemployment compensation. They will see their weekly benefits payments cut by 22 percent starting at the end of the month because of automatic federal spending cuts tied to sequestration. That’s a big bite out of John Fugazzie’s unemployment benefits. The River Edge resident lost his job back in October.
“Essentially, I’m getting $611 a week, so that’s $120 of that? estimated Fugazzie. “I mean, it’s impossible with food costs, with electric. I happen to be living back here in the house I grew up in for free, so I have no rent payment, and I’m finding it a struggle for our family to be able to survive.”
Knowing that others are struggling, Fugazzie started a group to help the unemployed called “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The weekly local meetings offer job search tips, networking opportunities, and motivation.
“I’ve got people all across the country now that want to take this same program we’ve put together and open up meetings in their local community because it works,” said Fugazzie. “Last night, we got our 300th success story in 28 months, which is unheard of.”
But those success stories of people landing a job are far and few between. New Jersey’s unemployment rate has trended downward in recent months. April’s jobless rate was 8.7 percent, its lowest level in four years. But that’s little consolation for the long-term unemployed.
“The whole unemployment situation is a crisis in the country right now,” according to Fugazzie. “The numbers that are stated … when they announced the 7.6 percent, there’s many people who have fallen off unemployment who are not being counted. The real rates, again, I’ve read numbers anywhere from 14 to as high as 20 percent, and if this percentage in the United States is not working, it’s horrible for our economy. It hurts everybody, not just the people out of work.”
And those counting on federal unemployment checks to see them through hard times may get hit with another nasty surprise. Because New Jersey’s unemployment rate has improved, the federal government could declare New Jersey residents ineligible for the final tier of benefits. That decision could come this summer.