Workers who can’t reach their workplaces because of Hurricane Sandy are eligible for special unemployment benefits in South Jersey.

The U.S. Department of Labor this week approved a request by New Jersey to allow workers in eight affected counties to apply for federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance.

The counties include Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean, but not Cumberland, which as of Thursday had not been included in the federal disaster declaration.

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The benefits are available to workers, including self-employed workers, who were living or working in the storm-damaged counties and are now unemployed in its aftermath.

“They must file for regular unemployment insurance first,” said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor.

If workers are deemed ineligible for normal unemployment insurance, they would then file for disaster unemployment assistance, he said.

“A casino worker temporarily unemployed due to Sandy could qualify for regular unemployment insurance assuming the worker had sufficient earnings for the past year,” Murray said.

Unlike ordinary unemployment insurance, disaster benefits are open to many self-employed workers whose jobs were hampered by the storm.

Among those eligible are workers who could not reach their job because of road closings or other storm restrictions, people who were slated to begin a job but couldn’t because of the storm and people who can’t work because of an injury they suffered in the disaster.

These kinds of disaster benefits are unusual for Atlantic City, said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, the city’s largest casino union.

“They gave out SNAP cards (formerly known as food stamps) to people for Hurricane Irene if they lost their perishable food. But this is over a much longer period of time — and it’s not over yet,” he said.

McDevitt said he has not heard of any tentative timetable for the city’s 12 casino hotels to reopen. His union represents more than 14,000 workers.

“There’s no communication going on between the county, the state, and the city and its residents. It’s just a big question mark,” he said.

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