doug hardy / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT — Driven by the COVID-19 virus outbreak, claims for unemployment insurance in Connecticut jumped 30-fold this week, according to state labor officials.

New claims for the period beginning Friday, March 13, and ending today totaled more than 75,000, according to Steve Jensen, spokesman for the Department of Labor. In a typical week, he said, the DOL receives about 2,500 new claims.

Claims began rising dramatically last weekend:

• Friday, March 13: 2,000
• Saturday and Sunday: 8,000
• Monday: 10,000
• Tuesday: 10,000
• Wednesday: 12,000
• Thursday: 14,000-plus
• Friday: 16,000

Payment of claims comes out of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which as of Thursday, had a balance of approximately $615 million. It has a solvency goal of $1.4 billion.

The state may apply for a federal loan to shore up the fund —  as it did in 2009, amid a recession-fueled budget crunch —  but the balance threshold to apply is approximately $150 million. Jensen said there is no official projection date for exhausting the fund. The DOL has no provision for rationing benefits, he said.

Despite the avalanche of claims, Jensen said the DOL has an advantage in requiring that they all be made online (at www.filectui.com), because it makes processing easier. The department has been shifting more staff to that job, he said, and Gov. Ned Lamont has authorized overtime pay for that purpose.

Unemployment insurance pays roughly 50% of workers’ weekly gross earnings over the previous 15 months. The average weekly benefit is $376; the maximum limit is $649. Dependent credits of $15 for up to five children are also available. But benefits end after 26 weeks. Any extension beyond that would have to come on the federal level, Jensen said. In January, the most recent month for which the DOL offers data, the average stay on benefits was 16.2 weeks.

Friday, Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby waived the requirement that recipients show a “reasonable” effort to look for new employment to continue receiving benefits.

Jensen said the labor department is tracking whether individuals filing for benefits were laid off permanently versus those who are out of work temporarily.

“Benefits are the same for both but we do keep track of temporary furloughs and they are automatically processed (quicker) if they provide us with a return-to-work date and their employer’s registration number – both of which should be supplied by the employer at time of layoff,” Jensen wrote in an email. He added that he would try to provide totals for the two categories of unemployment filings next week.

For those with questions on whether they qualify for benefits, the DOL has posted a fact sheet.

Bar Association Sets Up Task Force

The DOL says it makes judgments on benefits on a case-by-case basis. Disputes seem inevitable, though. That’s one of the reasons the Connecticut Bar Association has announced the formation of a 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Task Force “to respond to the growing legal issues and needs in Connecticut arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The task force will include lawyers, judges and other professionals statewide, the CBA said in a release. Its mission is to assist the government, the legal community, and the healthcare community in dealing with the pandemic. Besides helping to identify and address legal problems, the task force will “ensure that we are reaching out and collaborating with various groups across the state so that we get a handle on where the legal issues and needs arise and create a plan of action to help address concerns.”

The task force will be chaired by Barbara J. Collins of the Law Office of Barbara J. Collins, Monte E. Frank of Pullman & Comley LLC, and Dana M. Hrelic of Horton Dowd Bartschi & Levesque PC, all whom have led disaster relief efforts on behalf of the Connecticut Bar Association or the American Bar Association.