The state Department of Labor said Thursday that the state's unemployment rate appears to be much higher that data from the federal government reflects, that letters are going out to claimants who might be eligible for an extension of unemployment compensation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and they are adding phone lines to assist residents in need of assistance.
Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said the unemployment rate the federal government provided for Connecticut was 7.9 percent, but state officials believe the actual rate is closer to 17.5 percent as of mid-April.
He said the state has processed more than 500,000 claims since mid-March, which is typically four years of claims.
The Department of Labor says it has received 544,000 unemployment applications, including duplicates.
Officials said 507,000 of those have been processed, but that does not mean they have been paid.
Commissioner Kurt Westby calls unemployment during this pandemic a “job loss of epic proportions.”
He said in April it was double what it was during the entire 2008-2010 recession.
At the same time, Westby said staffing at the Department of Labor is at historic lows. That perfect storm caused a backlog of six weeks at the peak of the pandemic.
“We haven’t ever experienced such a massive increase in claims and calls in the history of the DOL in such a short period of time,” said Westby.
Each part of the state has been hit hard by unemployment, officials said, and the Stamford area as well as southeastern Connecticut are among the hardest hit areas, officials said.
Westby and Deputy Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo are providing updates on state and federal unemployment insurance programs, including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, a new temporary federal program that provides up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment after exhausting the 26 weeks of state benefits,
Bartolomeo said they expected to have the system up and running by May 20.
Around 65,000 people with a benefit year that ended between July 1, 2019 and now will be sent instructional letters. These individuals have not filed for benefits during the current benefit year and in many cases may be working. An additional 12,000 letters will be sent to claimants who recently exhausted regular state benefits and have filed in the current year. Approximately 500 letters will also be issued on a weekly basis as other claimants exhaust state unemployment benefits, according to the state Department of Labor.
Westby said letters will go out to 71,000 potential claimants with instructions on what to do and how to file and will the button will go live Tuesday for actual filing.
Bartolomeo urged people to wait until they receive instructions before filing for the PEUC extension.
The state is also clarifying the rules for a refusal to return to work for Covid-related reasons. Westby said at the urging of the governor the state will follow CDC guidelines and allow those a pre-existing condition such as cancer or chronic lung disease to stay on unemployment and not return to work.
Sharon Martin, a tutor in Seymour says she received unemployment for a month. Then, the payments just stopped. She started getting an error code, H108, after she notified the department that she’d received a one-time payment of personal time from her employer.
Her message to the DOL: “Explain to the people what these codes mean. Explain in detail so they understand where they’re at and if they have to wait why they have to wait.”
The Labor Department’s deputy commissioner says that code is a red flag that comes up for a variety of reasons. Their staff must investigate each one before payments can resume.
“In times when we are not in pandemic that happens within a week. Now, it is creating much more of a problem.”
Matrin’s called and emailed the DOL, but has not gotten through.
“I’m at a dilemma. I don’t know which way to go anymore,” she said of her frustration.
How to Apply:
- Use the blue button at www.filectui.com to file a new claim application so the agency can determine if there is eligibility for state benefits.
- After successfully completing a new claim application, individuals receive a confirmation email from the agency and a Monetary Determination of Unemployment Compensation Benefits (Form UC-58) in the mail.
- If the UC-58 indicates a person does not have a weekly benefit rate, they are monetarily ineligible to apply for state unemployment benefits. They will use the green button at www.filectui.com to access the PEUC site and file a claim application. If eligibility criteria are met, claimants will be entitled to collect up to 13 weeks of extended benefits.
- If the UC-58 indicates a person has a weekly benefit rate, they are monetarily eligible to apply for state benefits. They must first exhaust all entitlement to regular unemployment benefits from Connecticut or any other state before they can file an application for the PEUC extended benefits
- The 12,000 individuals who recently exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits will receive letters instructing them to file for PEUC benefits. This can be done by using the green button on www.filectui.com and accessing the PEUC application site. If eligibility criteria are met, claimants will be entitled to collect up to 13 weeks of extended benefits. This same letter will be provided to an estimated 500 individuals each week as they exhaust their 26 weeks of state benefits.
Reaching the Connecticut Department of Labor
The state Department of Labor has provided some phone numbers that people with questions and who need assistance can call:
People with common issues can call:
- (860) 263-6975
- (860) 263-6974
- (203) 455-2650
- (203) 455-2653
The state began to reopen on Wednesday, allowing some businesses that were closed because they were deemed "nonessential," to resume business.
While that will bring many people back to work, others fear going back to work because of their health conditions and are concerned about what that will mean for their unemployment claims.
Bartolomeo said the weekly reporting requirements and asks applicants whether they have refused "suitable" work.
Bartolomeo said the department was affected by a statewide system outage, which had the Department of Labor at a virtual standstill for around two days.
More than 2.4 million people across the United States applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week and around 38.6 million people across the nation have filed for amid the pandemic, according to statistics the Labor Department released Thursday.