Department of Labor (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

A state program that offers unemployed individuals up to $1,000 for finding a job has received 5,400 applications, at an average of about 25-50 per day. 

The Back-To-Work program was announced on May 17 by Gov. Ned Lamont and is funded with $10 million from the federal CARES ACT. That means there’s room for about 4,600 more applicants. 

“If people are taking advantage of getting a job right now while it’s a job-seekers market and having that job for a minimum of eight weeks, they are still eligible and there is an opportunity for them to receive the $1,000 back-to-work bonus,” Acting Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said. 

She said the program has been a success. 

But not everyone felt the numbers were promising. 

“That’s disappointing to hear that,” Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said of the Back-To-Work program. 

“We were wondering how successful that program would be compared to the states that simply ended the extended unemployment benefits,” Gjede said. 

The extended federal unemployment benefits will end on Sept. 4 unless Congress continues them. 

“But we don’t see any signs of that right now,” Bartolomeo said. 

As far as recovery is concerned, “We’ve recovered about 65% of the jobs that were lost in March and April of 2020,” Bartolomeo said. 

Connecticut has about 135,000 weekly unemployment filers and all of those that are paid stop receiving the extra $300 as of Sept. 4. Additionally about 60% of claimants are collecting benefits through a series of new federal programs that will also end the first week of September. 

“We should see many more folks back into the workforce,” Bartolomeo said. 

She said it’s been a slow trickle of workers returning to jobs since May 30 when the state added the requirement that those on unemployment prove that they are actively searching for a job. That requirement was automated the first week in July. 

Gjede said businesses are trying to get very creative in getting people back into the workforce with incentives and benefits. 

“Many of the state’s largest employers said they can afford to do that and offer different incentives,” Gjede said. “But really the problem is so many small businesses simply cannot.” 

As for the unemployment program, “unemployment is not a wage replacement traditionally and for some of the lowest wage folks that has been the case because of the $300 federal benefit,” Bartolomeo said. 

Gjede said he doesn’t attribute all of Connecticut’s workforce problem to extended unemployment benefits. He said it’s just one of the factors that is contributing to a slow return to work. 

He said there’s also an ongoing concern about COVID-19 and child care issues that won’t disappear until school starts again in a few weeks. 

The Back-To-Work bonus program will run through the end of the year or until the $10 million is depleted.