ctnewsjunkie file photo
Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

WETHERSFIELD, CT – The Department of Labor, which has received more than 436,000 unemployment claims since March 13, will open up the unemployment system for self-employed individuals who have lost work due to COVID-19 “mid-next week.”

The system, which was supposed to be up and running Thursday, is not fully operational and there are no instructions posted yet for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program on the department’s website.

“We know a bunch of them have applied through the normal system already,” Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said.

As part of the federal government’s PUA, individuals who are self-employed can begin to submit their applications for unemployment using the general blue button on the DOL website.

Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said self-employed individuals need to first file a claim and then receive a piece of mail that shows they are not eligible for any state benefits. Self-employed people can’t apply on the PUA site until they have been processed through the state filing site and denied state benefits – a status referred to as a “UC-58 determination”.

That UC-58 determination they receive in the mail will then allow them to proceed to the second step, and allow them to file through the ReEmployCT system, which won’t be available until next week.

Once the Labor department is able to get that second step going, self-employed individuals will need to provide their 2019 IRS forms, 1099s, 2019 W-2s, and Schedule C. Those without tax records for 2019 will be subject to an audit, according to state officials.

Federal guidelines will allow unemployment assistance for these individuals to go back to Feb. 2.

Since this is the first time self-employed individuals have been allowed to apply for unemployment, labor officials don’t know how many individuals will apply for the program.

Asked if a person already applied and was denied benefits, labor officials said the individual should wait until a new “red” button gets added to the labor department website.

Other Unemployment Issues

Westby said they have also started to work on issues where individuals were paid unemployment benefits for a week or two, but then the payments stopped. He said there were about 2,200 people in the system that stopped receiving payments when their benefits should have continued.

“We’re contacting them today and tomorrow by phone to fix those claims, including any prior weeks,” Westby said.

That was just one of the dozens of questions that readers have sent to CTNewsJunkie, seeking answers to questions with no one available to call at the labor department.

In the meantime, the department has set up two phone lines for general questions about applying for unemployment. The numbers are 860-263-6975 and 203-455-2653.

There are only 25 people staffing the phones, and the preferred method of communication for those with specific questions about their claims is still email.

Westby said they will be hiring 60 people to help with running the unemployment insurance program, including processing, overpayments, and the new federal programs.

“We don’t have the staff, the ability, the funding, the time to be able to stand up a call center right now,” Bartolomeo said. “But the backlog is going down significantly.”

Bartolomeo said they’ve been able to identify problems after hearing from the news media and lawmakers.

Editor’s note: The 60 additional people the department is hiring will not be for a call center.