Christine Cemelli was at home on March 16 when she got the text. Her husband, a chef at a fine-dining restaurant in New Jersey, had been laid off. Earlier that day, Governor Phil Murphy had signed an executive order restricting the operations of nonessential businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Restaurants could stay open only for takeout and delivery orders, but that didn’t make financial sense for her husband’s restaurant. Cemelli quickly launched into action.
“Literally, as soon as he texted me that he was getting laid off, I jumped on the computer,” Cemelli recalls. She had seen reports of layoffs around the county in response to the pandemic, and knew that with each hour that passed, it could become more difficult for her husband to claim unemployment benefits.
Cemelli began working her way through New Jersey’s online unemployment application system at 1 pm.