Entering May, more than 35,000 Connecticut residents were enrolled in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created under the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act, allowing them to receive benefits. The CARES Act qualified PUA applicants to receive a base $198 in weekly pay and more as they could demonstrate via documentation of prior earnings.
While the Connecticut Department of Labor’s new guidelines lay out specific steps most workers will have to take to receive unemployment compensation — for starters, undertaking at least three work search activities weekly — DOL did not immediately detail what documentation PUA recipients should be able to produce to prove they are attempting to increase their base of income.
“All PUA claimants are required to undertake efforts to find employment,” DOL states in language to be added to its website on navigating the weekly work search requirement, as forwarded Friday by a department spokesperson after a Hearst Connecticut Media query. “Self-employed … [PUA] claimants are required to undertake efforts to find employment or engage in work search activities related to their self-employment.”
For gig economy workers who depend on inbound solicitations — Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts, for example — that may not be an easy undertaking. The U.S. Department of Labor allowed states to approve those workers for benefits in instances in which they incurred only a partial loss of income.
DOL stated its intent to audit a percentage of unemployment claims for compliance with work-search requirements, with the option to cut off benefits and demand repayment if it finds any individual is not making the effort.
There are exceptions to the overall work-search requirements, including people on furlough from employers but who have return-to-work dates in hand.
As of April, the federal government had advanced Connecticut some $700 million to pay out unemployment compensation, equating to $196 for every resident in the state. That was among the higher figures nationally, though Connecticut was in far better shape entering this year than New York, California and Massachusetts.
Last month, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a plan to rebuild the Connecticut Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, including by raising the taxable wage base to $25,000 of an employee’s earnings from the existing wage base of $15,000.
“I cannot … overstate how historic this is for the state of Connecticut,” said Chris DiPentima, CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, speaking in April at DOL’s Wethersfield office. “It brings predictability and stability to a very-broken fund. I know long-term solutions and long-term reform are not something that is very exciting today, but they are things we look back on years down the road and realize how important they were.”
Includes prior reporting by Ken Dixon.
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