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

WETHERSFIELD, CT —Connecticut’s unemployment claim applications have jumped to 544,000, according to Department of Labor officials.

Nearly 507,000 of the claim applications are in the midst of being processed.

However, agency officials were unable to say how many people from that group have actually been paid out from the $1.57 billion in benefits the state has issued to date.

The claims processing slowed to a crawl this week when the state computer system went down, because employees were unable to access the virtual server.

“All of Tuesday and most of Wednesday, we were affected,” Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said. “Because we have a majority of our staff working remotely, it also did affect the method by which they access our servers.”

The computer outage impacted the internal phone systems at the agency, too.

“We were almost at a standstill for two days,” Bartolomeo said. 

The Labor Department is also mailing instruction letters on Friday, May 22 to approximately 77,000 individuals who have been identified as potentially eligible to apply for 13 weeks of emergency extended unemployment benefits. That’s the program that extends the 26 weeks of regular state unemployment insurance to 39 weeks. The additional time is part of the federal CARES Act.

The additional weeks of unemployment insurance includes the extra $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit.

Those who have questions about their unemployment claims are still having trouble getting through to the department.

The department is responding to about 3,000 emails per day, but their website says they have up to five weeks to respond to those emails. Bartolomeo said they won’t be able to catch up on the emails if people continue to double down and send additional emails.

It’s unclear when the American Job Centers will reopen to give people help in person. Commissioner Kurt Westby said possibly in June.

This week the economy began to reopen and people are beginning to get called back to work. But not everyone can safely return to the workplace.

Many have questioned what will happen if they get a call from their boss, but don’t feel safe returning to their workplace. Can they still filed for unemployment?

Gov. Ned Lamont has said “yes,” but it might be a trickier when it comes to filing out the paperwork to continue to receive benefits.

Westby said when someone is filing a claim they have to say whether they’ve been offered or refused “suitable” employment. “Suitable” depends on each individual’s situation.

“We’re going to be following CDC guidelines in terms of interpreting that,” Westby said. “Included in those guidelines will be anyone 65 years or older.”

He said it won’t immediately jeopardize those unemployment benefits for individuals who fall under those guidelines. It’s less clear for situations involving healthy adults with no pre-existing conditions.

The question about “suitable” employment offers or rejections will begin to appear on weekly claims starting on Sunday.