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CT catches up on delayed federal unemployment relief

The state Department of Labor caught up on delayed federal unemployment relief in mid-September, channeling $301 million to nearly 146,000 residents in three days, according to a department spokeswoman.

The payments — $300 per week for up to six weeks — were part of a stop-gap measure ordered by President Donald Trump after Congress failed to adopt a third, major economic relief effort.

Connecticut wasn’t alone in distributing the relief dollars retroactively. Many states were still playing catch-up in September on a program that Trump launched 13 days after the effective start date.

“Lost Wages Assistance was an important resource for claimants who are trying to make ends meet during a very difficult economy,” state labor commissioner Kurt Westby said Tuesday. “Almost overnight, this pandemic created hundreds of thousands of unemployed and underemployed residents in Connecticut.”

Though the state’s official unemployment rate was 8.1% in August, labor department officials say the effective rate is closer to 14% or 15%. The official rate is based on a federal survey that fails to count many unemployed people who want to find new jobs but are hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump created the Lost Wages Assistance Program via executive order on Aug. 8, shortly after the expiration of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act. The PUA program had provided recipients with up to 13 weeks of enhanced unemployment benefits, an additional $600-per-week from Washington, D.C. on top of state jobless benefits. Nearly 415,500 unemployed in Connecticut received at least one week of enhanced, $600 benefits through the PUA program.

“The expiration of  the $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation left a very large hole in most family budgets,” Westby said.

The Lost Wages program, which provided $300 per week for up to six weeks, was intended to cover a period beginning July 26 and running through the first week of September. It was paid for with federal disaster funds rather than resources from the U.S. unemployment trust.

Because the funding came from an unconventional federal source, Connecticut labor officials needed several weeks to develop a new system to process the benefits and interact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To be eligible for Lost Wages assistance, applicants also had to qualify for at least $100 of state unemployment insurance and have had their employment hours reduced by 50% or more due to the coronavirus.

According to state labor department spokeswoman Juliet Manalan, all six weeks’ worth of payments were delivered, retroactively, to Connecticut recipients between Sept. 16 and 18. Manalan added that while the overwhelming bulk of applicants have received their funds, a small fraction whose cases were flagged for review for technical reasons will remain pending until a hearing or more detailed review is complete.

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