Connecticut to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits

December 4, 2020 GMT

Gov. Ned Lamont has signed an order allowing the Connecticut Department of Labor to expand eligibility for a federal unemployment program to an estimated 38,000 additional recipients who were previously disqualified.

Under the Democratic governor’s order, $7.5 million from the state’s unemployment trust fund will be used make sure residents who are unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were previously disqualified from receiving the temporary, extra financial benefit receive at least $100 a week in unemployment benefits.

That would then make them eligible retroactively for an additional $300 under the federal Lost Wages Assistance Program.

“This is a temporary increase. It covers only the six weeks that the original program ran, but is an important increase that allows those claimants to bring in potentially $1,800 each,” Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said Friday.

The executive order, which does not apply to new unemployment claimants, will leverage $54 million in additional federal unemployment benefits for the previously disqualified workers.

“It’s good news for our residents. It’s good for our economy,” Westby said.

More than 160,000 Connecticut residents already received the supplemental federal benefits, resulting in a total of $370 million being allocated over six weeks, from July 26 to Sept. 5.

In order to be eligible, they had to have received at least $100 a week in unemployment benefits after losing their jobs because of the pandemic. Westby said that threshold meant thousands of unemployed low-wage workers were left out.

On average, Westby said the state is boosting the recipients’ base unemployment benefit by $46 a week in order to bring them to the required $100 threshold. Information is expected to be mailed Saturday to eligible residents.

Lamont said the state might be able to help these same workers again if Congress ultimately agrees to extend the Lost Wages Assistance Program under a COVID relief bill that’s still being negotiated in Washington.

Meanwhile, the state has had to borrow more than $400 million from the federal government to cover the increased demands on the unemployment trust fund, which is typically paid by taxes on businesses. Additional loan requests have been made.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, the incoming Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, said Connecticut should follow the lead of other states and use some of the state’s federal coronavirus relief funds to limit how much the state is borrowing and subsequently how much businesses will have to repay.

“I think our greater concern is just the long-term recovery,” he said, noting that the private sector will ultimately have to cover the massive tab.

Westby has already written to the federal government, asking that the state’s unemployment trust fund loans be turned into grants, freeing businesses of the burden of having to repay the money.

Candelora said the state still has about $200 million of its roughly $1.4 billion allotment under the federal coronavirus relief act and several weeks to spend it.

He and other House Republicans have also suggested the remaining federal funds could be spent to increase grant amounts under a new state-run small business assistance program, delay local property tax payments for businesses or delay a planned payroll tax that begins in January for the state’s new paid family medical leave program.

“We need to start paying attention because I don’t think we anticipated how dramatic of an increase this virus is,” said Candelora, referring to the increasing infection rate in Connecticut. “I think we’re going to see some dramatic (economic) downturn that the governor has got to address.”

On Friday, the state reported more than 1,500 additional confirmed and probable new COVID-19 cases since Thursday. There were also 35 more COVID-associated deaths, for a total of 5,146. The number of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Connecticut declined by 41 to 1,150.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Connecticut has increased by 506.1, an increase of 26.3%, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Tracking Project.

Meanwhile, a 44-year-old male inmate died Friday from COVID-related complications. The Department of Correction said the unnamed prisoner had several underlying comorbidities and was transferred to an outside hospital, where he died. He was serving a 27-year-sentence for four counts of first-degree sexual assault. He was not eligible for parole until September 2025.


This story has corrects the spelling of Kurt Westby’s first name from Curt.