U. of Chicago Report: When New Jerseyans Needed Their Government the Most, our Government Failed Us - GSI - Garden State Initiative

U. of Chicago Report: When New Jerseyans Needed Their Government the Most, our Government Failed Us – GSI

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U. of Chicago Report: When New Jerseyans Needed Their Government the Most, our Government Failed Us – GSI

August 2, 2021

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By William J. Smith, GSI Staff

No doubt you’ve heard the heartbreaking stories over the last year of suddenly unemployed New Jerseyans struggling for months to get assistance with unemployment claims or camping out overnight at an MVC location to register a new car. At GSI, we noted last year that the state was slow to add call center capacity or move transactions online.  And most frustratingly, refused to transfer idle state workers from closed customer-facing offices to handle surging call volumes.

A new report from the University of Chicago corroborates what many New Jerseyans have experienced since last March – when New Jersey residents needed their government to provide essential services, our state failed us.

Financial news website MarketWatch.com reported on one such resident, Alia Renée Capodici, a single mother who was furloughed from her job and called New Jersey’s Division of Unemployment Insurance “10 times a day for weeks…I get the same message that they’re too busy and to call back the next business day every single time.”

It appears her experience was more the rule rather than the rare exception.  

The report, A Note on the Level of Customer Support by State Governments: A Mystery-Shopping Approach, was conducted by the university’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics and employed a “mystery shopping” to make 2,000 phone calls to state government offices across the country.

Click to enlarge. Source: University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

The analysis found that New Jersey ranked last in the country when it came to responding to requests for assistance with unemployment benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, income tax returns and Medicaid.

The analysis found New Jersey residents have the worst chance at connecting over the phone with a live representative for help in those four categories. For context, live representatives in New Jersey and Georgia, the next lowest ranked state, were reached less than 20% of the time while at the other end of the spectrum, representatives in New Hampshire and Wisconsin were reached more than 80% of the time.

To offer a complete picture, the study also looked at the ability of states to recommend live chat or detailed websites as alternatives to live operators.  They found that it is not the case that states with low ability to reach a live representative such as New Jersey “compensate by having helpful live chats and a professional website.”

It’s no secret that New Jersey residents pay dearly for these government services and that we are among the most heavily taxed in the county. In fact, a recent study found that New Jerseyans by far pay the highest amount of taxes in a lifetime. In what other circumstance would you accept paying the most but get the least?  As residents and taxpayers, we need to be able to count on our government to be there in our time of need to provide essential human services.

But New Jersey continues to sit on billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief aid, Motor Vehicle offices continue to have long delays for routine transactions, and many Unemployment Insurance payments continue to experience delays.  Shouldn’t we expect and demand better?