Unemployment chart concept. (FOTOGRIN via Shutterstock)
(FOTOGRIN via Shutterstock)

Connecticut’s Labor Department launched an overhauled unemployment filing system this week after years in development. State officials expect the streamlined benefit and tax system to save time for both filers and employers. 

During a televised press conference Wednesday, Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said the new system, called ReEmployCT, had been live since around noon Tuesday. Nearly all of the 20,000 people filing for weekly benefits in Connecticut are already registered in the new system, she said.

“We have more work ahead of us, but we are pleased with the transition and know that ReEmployCT will help make the unemployment system easier to navigate for all users,” Bartolomeo said in a press release. 

All told, the project cost about $60 million with federal funding paying around $35 million, Bartolomeo said. 

Labor Department officials began planning the new system back in 2013 with a goal of implementing the overhaul in 2021. A surge in unemployment claims brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans. 

In addition to delaying the implementation of a new system, the historic surge in claims highlighted the limitations of the old filing system. 

Bartolomeo said the older system was programmed in such a way that it could not issue benefit payments greater than three digits. When the federal government subsidized unemployment benefits during the pandemic, pushing benefits above $999, the system needed to be reworked in order to generate payments. On another occasion, a flood of 8,300 new applications in one day froze the system.

“That was the system we were working with. It wasn’t nimble. People hadn’t predicted. We now know what can happen,” Bartolomeo said. “No one that designed the system had contemplated [the volume]. But we are ready. This system is nimble.”

It combines five disparate systems, is always available online, and reduces the need for manual inputs as well as faxing or mailing documents, Bartolomeo said. The upgrades should reduce the burden on Connecticut employers, she said.

“Some employers are going to experience 75% less filing and the tech improvements will help with accounting, reporting and data analysis,” Bartolomeo said. “We’re bringing this modern system to fruition. This was a massive, massive effort.”

During the press conference, Eric Gjede, vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the program would reduce the cost and manpower needed to administer the state’s unemployment benefits. 

“The business community hopes that this effort is just one of many that will continue to find greater efficiencies through technology, modernize our state government and deliver greater taxpayer returns on investment,” Gjede said. 

Unemployment insurance policy has recently been a point of contention between Gov. Ned Lamont and the state’s business community, which has lobbied the administration to use more federal funding to pay down debt the state incurred when it borrowed around $900 million to support the unemployment fund during the pandemic. 

On Wednesday, Lamont said the state had paid down more than half the outstanding balance “organically.” He estimated the remaining debt at around $200 million.

“One of the things we wanted to do is make darn sure – and believe me I heard from CBIA on this loud and clear – make darn sure that none of our small businesses would have to pay any additional unemployment fees this calendar year or next calendar year,” Lamont said.

The governor said he hoped the state would pay down the remaining debt in the next two years. If not, Lamont said “we’ll have to see about perhaps making another payment to make sure it doesn’t fall on the backs of small business.”