The state Department of Labor has received more than 400,000 unemployment applications from people who are out of work amid the COVID-19 pandemic and officials said Thursday that more than 320,000 have been processed and they have issued more than $230 million in benefits.
Connecticut residents who have filed for unemployment have expressed frustrations about the system, which Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said is 40 years old and was not designed to handle such a surge in applications.
Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said that they are expecting what was a six-week wait to process claims to be reduced to a one-week wait by this weekend.
Department of Labor officials said they were working on a 40-year-old system that was not made to handle the "tsunami" in claims received during the public health crisis.
“Our new automation programming has allowed us to process over 100,000 applications for benefits, which has made a tremendous difference since the agency is handling more applications that we would typically receive in two years,” State Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said in a statement. “Although we continue to receive thousands of new applications every day, the new automation allows our staff to focus on more complex claims that must be manually processed.”
In addition to the state claims, DOL staff is completing programming and developing new systems to accommodate the three federal stimulus programs for unemployment insurance.
They said it includes programming for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation -- FPUC, which will allow the agency to add the additional $600 to weekly state benefit payments, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance - PUA - that provides benefits for self-employed individuals.
FPUC is scheduled to begin the week of April 27, and the agency expects to begin accepting applications for PUA by April 30. Both programs to be retroactive.
The third federal program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation - PEUC - is a 13-week federal extension that will allow eligible claimants to collect the additional weeks after exhausting the 26 weeks of state benefits. The agency plans to have this system in operation by mid-May.
Westby said the state is around two-thirds of the way through modernizing its system.
Officials said they are processing applications manually and through the automated system and they have quadrupled staff to help handle theme.
Westby said they are hiring more people, including 60 temporary employees in the next couple of weeks.
Officials said they understand it's a financial crisis when anyone is laid off and they know patience is running low.
Department of Labor officials said people who have recently filed an application for unemployment benefits to look for an email from the department that advises them of the next steps for filing a weekly claim.
This said applicants should check any spam or junk email boxes.
They also recommend selecting direct deposit for benefits to receive them within two business days after a claim application has been processed and approved.
Department officials said a shortage of debit cards is causing up to a four-week delay when the bank issues the cards.
On a national level, more than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week and roughly 26 million people have now filed for in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors.
About one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20 percent.
Westby said he could not provide an exact number of Connecticut residents who are unemployed, but said the next report to be released on May 21 will better reflect the situation.