Connecticut legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont are considering additional ways to mitigate the impact of the new coronavirus on residents and businesses, as well as the state’s overall economy.
With the General Assembly on a temporary pause because of the outbreak — a delay that will eat up valuable time in an already short, three-month legislative session — there’s interest in prioritizing a legislative response to the outbreak as well as passing major bills such as the state budget.
Discussions among legislative leaders and the governor are planned this week as official legislative business has been postponed at the state Capitol until at least March 30. The session is scheduled to adjourn May 6.
“People need to stop worrying about their pet bills, their initiatives that they really care about, and start focusing on this big picture of long-term economic recovery,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, the deputy GOP leader in the House of Representatives who will be part of the closed-door discussions.
The owner of Connecticut Sportsplex, an indoor/outdoor recreation attraction in North Branford, Candelora said he’s already planning for large-scale layoffs at his business because of the virus. He suggested lawmakers suspend the recent minimum wage increase to $11 an hour. Another increase to $12 an hour is scheduled for October. Numerous venues across the state have postponed events and various businesses, including restaurants, have already reported a downturn in customers.
“Frankly, the retail/entertainment industry was going to have a hard enough time implementing all these costs that the legislature put on us last session. And now you add in a pandemic and you’re going to see massive failure,” he said.
Joe Brennan, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he’s urging lawmakers to “do no harm” when they finally return to Hartford.
“There’s a lot of things that they’re still pushing that would make things worse instead of better,” he said. “Anything that’s going to make it more expensive, more burdens, more mandates for whatever - just no - don’t go there.”
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.
SMALL BUSINESS EXPRESS LOANS
The Lamont administration has already had some discussions with legislators and various groups about how to blunt the impact of the virus on Connecticut’s economy. On Friday, the governor announced the state Department of Economic and Community Development will defer loan payments for three months for those businesses impacted by COVID-19 that are part of the state’s Small Business Express program. There are approximately 800 outstanding loans with an aggregate loan balance of approximately $110 million.
The state agency is trying to accommodate other businesses with DECD loans that are being impacted by the virus as well.
PENDING STATE BUDGET
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said she expects the yet-to-be-finalized state budget will need to include possibly up to $22 million in new funding for everything from testing supplies to replacement staffing costs if certain state workers become ill. That’s in addition to the $8.1 million Connecticut is expected to see in the first allotment of federal assistance. The state is also expected to receive more money under legislation that cleared Congress early Saturday morning.
A former employee at the Department of Correction, Osten said prison workers have told her they may “get frozen and have to stay there” if there’s an outbreak of the virus in a prison and a subsequent lock down. Osten said those workers would need to be replaced with other people.
Meanwhile, Osten said much of the work on proposed changes to the new budget that takes effect July 1 has been completed, including recommendations from various subcommittees. Osten estimated things could be wrapped up in about a week, once lawmakers return to the state Capitol.
STATE AGENCY CLOSURES
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has closed all visitor centers and facilities at state parks to help stem the spread of COVID-19. DEEP has also suspended large gatherings at all of their facilities and parks, including weddings that are held at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, at least through the end of April.
The Connecticut Department of Labor has suspend a federal work-search program that required recipients of unemployment insurance go to the American Job Centers across Connecticut, in person, and receive one-on-one help.