HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Ten percent of the U.S. workforce is out of job, according to a report released on Thursday.
The U.S. Labor Department reported a total of 16.6 million unemployment claims, with 6.6 million coming in just the last week.
In Connecticut, more than 302,000 people were out of work, state labor officials said on Wednesday.
“[Thursday's] report continues to reflect the purposeful sacrifice being made by America’s workers and their families to slow the spread of the coronavirus," said Eugene Scalia, secretary of labor. "The Trump Administration is swiftly implementing the historic relief program the president signed into law last month, providing unprecedented support to American workers and small businesses during these challenging times."
Scalia said earlier this week, the federal Department of Labor provided states with the essential guidance they need to distribute the enhanced, $600 weekly unemployment benefit under the CARES Act.
"States have already begun making these payments, and additional states will follow as they complete their preparations," he said. "The department continues to work closely with the States to support this process.”
When that money will actually reach Connecticut remains to be seen.
The state's Department of Labor said it provided more than $35 million in benefits payments to about 133,000 claimants last week, but many are still waiting.
“We recognize the critical role unemployment insurance plays, as it provides a lifeline to people who are out of work,” said Kurt Westby, commissioner, state Department of Labor. “During this time of need, the agency is working extra hours and weekends to process claims as quickly as possible and to program in computer changes to accommodate the new federal programs that will provide additional unemployment benefits.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began to dramatically affect the state's economy and employment situation, the DOL was typically issuing approximately 40,000 benefit payments per week and providing $15 to $16 million in benefits to those seeking new employment.
The $35 million dollars issued last week represented a more than 100 percent increase in the amount of benefits that were provided the previous week.
“Typically the agency receives 3,000 new claims a week, but the applications we have seen in last 21 days represent more than we would handle in 18 months," Westby said. "Typically, a staff of 20 handles the weekly processing, but we now have over 80 CTDOL employees – including those from other units, retirees, and former staff who have transferred to other agencies – all working together to get benefits to our residents as quickly as possible. Additional staff are receiving training and will soon be assisting as well,” Westby added.
One of the issues that's come to light, not just in Connecticut but across the country, has been inefficient and older computer systems. Experts said the systems were not designed to handle the amount of claims that have been filed.
For speedier claims processing, those who have yet to file are asked to use filectui.com.
The Department of Labor has been updating its system, but it was being done right when all the claims started coming in. Add to that, the overload and keeping up with all the new rules on how to apply for different relief programs and putting them on their website.
"Unfortunately, that backlog will persist for a while. We are just not set up to handle that many unemployment claims of that magnitude in any state,” said Economics Professor Zachary Cohle, of Quinnipiac University.
He said we are headed for a recession and it could be a year or longer before businesses come back, but he said it will be different. Some businesses will close and other businesses will fill into those positions.