WETHERSFIELD, CT (WFSB) - The Connecticut Department Labor gave out $83 million in unemployment benefits over the past week.

It also said it processed 327,000 of the 402,000 applications it received since March 13, when unemployment numbers started to spike from the coronavirus pandemic.

Over a five week span, the DOL said it provided $230 million in unemployment benefits.

“Our new automation programming has allowed us to process over 100,000 applications for benefits, which has made a tremendous difference since the agency is handling more applications that we would typically receive in two years,” said Kurt Westby, state labor commissioner. “Although we continue to receive thousands of new applications every day, the new automation allows our staff to focus on more complex claims that must be manually processed.”

Westby said the DOL is on target to reduce the processing time of claim applications from six weeks to one week by April 27.

The goal is to apply automation to more complex claims, which would further speed up the process.

“The task was complicated, due to our 40-year-old mainframe that uses a COBOL operation system,” Westby said. “In addition to the tremendous work accomplished by our staff, we are grateful to partner agencies, especially the Department of Administrative Services and Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology, for their expertise and being part of the solution.”

The DOL said it is developing new systems to accommodate the three federal stimulus programs for unemployment insurance.

That includes programming for the additional weekly $600 from the federal government to state benefit payments, which are scheduled to begin on April 27 and be retroactive.

It also includes payments to the self-employed, applications for which are expected to start being accepted by April 30 and also be retroactive.

The third federal program is a 13-week federal extension that will allow eligible claimants to collect the additional weeks after exhausting the 26 weeks of state benefits. The agency plans to have this system in operation by mid-May.

As part of its commitment to the public, the DOL said its staff is working 12-hour days and responding to 3,000 emails daily that have been received through CTDOL’s Online Assistance Center and Webhelp email systems.

General information phone lines staffed by more than 25 employees offer online guidance to hundreds of additional residents requesting help with filing an application.

"The pace at which these claims are coming now they're getting a little more used to. I don't know if that's a good piece of news,” said Dave Lewis, the founder of Operations Inc. based in Norwalk.

His company consults businesses on a number of issues. These days its COVID-19. He said no state was prepared to deal with the tsunami of unemployment claims in such a short time.

"The last unemployment number was 3.7 percent but that was before businesses were shut down. The next report isn't coming out until May 21, that's a long time. I am afraid to put the number out, but I think that number is going to be in excess of 20 percent."

More information on filing claims can be found on the DOL's website here.

Copyright 2020 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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