The governor signed an executive order Friday to allow thousands of Connecticut residents who were collecting less than $100 per week in unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic from the end of July to the beginning of September to be eligible for an additional $300 per week in federal benefits. The order will allow them to collect retroactively for that six-week span.
Connecticut Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said the governor's executive order will allow the department to extend lost wage assistance to most of the 38,000 people who were not earning enough to meet the threshold that triggered the additional $300 in federal assistance.
This, he said, could provide the affected people up to $1,800 each.
"It's going to return $55 million to working moms and dads around the state of Connecticut and what that means in this holiday season in terms of being able to maybe get a little something extra for their child for Christmas or Hanukkah," Gov. Ned Lamont said.
Westby said the lost wages assistance program used disaster relief funds to help supplement unemployment benefits for more than 160,000 people in Connecticut and $327 million was allocated for the period from July 26 to Sept. 5.
"But LWA had a significant drawback," Westby said. "In order to qualify, unemployed workers had to have a minimum benefit of at least $100 per week. This threshold unlocked an additional $300 under the lost wages assistance program."
While the program helped more than 160,000 people in the state, another 38,000, many of whom are low-wage earners, were disqualified because their benefits did not reach the threshold, Westby said.
The governor's executive order will allow the state Department of Labor to use the state's trust fund to bridge the gap for most of the 38,000 people who were receiving less than $100 in benefits for the six weeks from the end of July to the beginning of September.
"This makes them eligible retroactively for the federal lost wages assistance payments," Westby said.
This would apply only for the six-week span.
An email will go out Saturday, followed by mailings to go out next week.
Gov. Ned Lamont said the pandemic has been wreaking havoc on our health and on the budgets of families and small businesses. Lamont said more than a million claims for unemployment assistance have been filed since the beginning of the pandemic.
He said 38,000 people earning less than $100 per week have been frozen out of unemployment support.
Officials said the average claimant would get an additional $43 per week for the six weeks from the trust fund.
The average benefit at this point is around $270 per week, officials said Friday morning.
Officials said a $7.5 million investment from the state will get more money to working Connecticut moms and dads.
What You Need to Know
To receive the LWA benefits, you must certify that you were unemployed due to COVID for the weeks covered by Lost Wages Assistance. You will receive information and instructions by mail and email directly from the Connecticut Department of Labor beginning the week of Dec. 7.
LWA benefits and the supplemental state payments are taxable income.
For example, if you have a weekly benefit amount of $60, you will receive six payments of $40 to your account. You do not have to apply for these funds. That “plus up” will allow you to then qualify for the LWA program. You must certify that you were unemployed for any (or all) of the six weeks of the Lost Wages Assistance program. A few days after you complete the certification, you will see up to six additional deposits (one per eligible week), each for $300, in your account.
The executive order will also relieve reimbursing employers from charges for the additional funds needed to get claimants to the $100 threshold, according to the governor. Contributing employers have already been relieved of charges under Executive Order No. 7W.
The Connecticut Department of Labor has information and instructions on its federal supplements webpage and will notify people directly through email and mail.
The governor's office said the state Department of Labor will never ask for personal identifying information like username, password, or Social Security number in an email and the state agency does not send any link by email that requires a username or password. Claimants are urged to call the agency’s contact center with any questions.
As of Nov. 19, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, according to the state Department of Labor website.
Impact to the Business Community
Connecticut must borrow money from the feds to make those low-income earners eligible. That money must be paid back not by the state, but by businesses who are so far on the hook for $415 million.
“By the time it’s done, we believe it will exceed a billion dollars," said Eric Gjede of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
Connecticut has the second lowest earnings threshold in the country, which some in the business community believe made the fund go insolvent more quickly that it would have otherwise. They say it’s time for reform.
“Right now, in Connecticut, you can receive benefits if you’ve earned only $600 in an entire year and that threshold hasn’t changed since 1968," Gjede said.
One of Connecticut’s top Republicans points out that other states have used CARES Act money to prop up their unemployment funds
“To date, Connecticut has put in zero," said House Minority Leader-elect Rep. Vincent Candelora.
Instead, Connecticut has prioritized pandemic funding for health care.
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