Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie

MIDDLETOWN, CT — Connecticut will expand a program to supplement the wages of workers struggling with reduced hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday.

During a press conference at Pegasus Manufacturing, Lamont said the state would use funds from the federal coronavirus relief package to bolster the Shared Work program, which pays an employer’s share of unemployment benefits for workers who have had their hours reduced. The goal is to avoid layoffs.

The state Labor Department will use more than $1 million in federal funds to increase the number of Shared Work applications it can process. The department will be equipped to handle more applications by Oct. 5, Deputy Commissioner Daryle Dudzinski said.

Lamont said the program helps companies keep a trained workforce employed as the economy rebounds from the pandemic.

“Maybe you can’t afford to keep them five days a week. Maybe that’s too much,” he said. “But now your alternative isn’t unemployment or seeing if you power through it. Now it’s maybe three days a week you can keep them here at Pegasus and we, the state of Connecticut, through employment insurance … we’re able to make up the difference.”

Nick Zandonella, general manager of Pegasus, said nearly all the company’s roughly 100 employees have used the program.

“It’s given us a lot of opportunity to retain a lot of our key talent,” he said. “It positions us really well for when the aerospace industry starts to rebound.”

Dudzinski said the use of the program has ballooned during the pandemic. Last year, 288 companies took advantage of Shared Work. Meanwhile, more than 1,300 have signed up since March 2020.

“We’re now serving more than 24,000 people. This is an important program for companies, workers and the economy,” he said.

Although most of the companies using Shared Work are manufacturers, Lamont said he is hoping more industries will adopt it going forward.

“It was always more deemed appropriate for manufacturing because of the nature of the contracts stopping and starting. Now we’re finding that even restaurants and movie theaters can stop and start a little bit too,” Lamont said.