‘Signing bonus’ in store for long-term unemployed workers

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday announced the state government will be offering 10,000 long-term unemployed workers a $1,000 “signing bonus” for rejoining the full-time workforce.

The Democratic governor said the federal coronavirus relief funds will cover the estimated $10 million cost of the back-to-work incentive program that is scheduled to be launched May 24.

The details of the Back to Work CT Program are forthcoming, but the initiative that Lamont broadly outlined Monday would target the long-term unemployed, and the $1,000 incentive will be paid after someone has been employed full-time for two months.

“We’ll determine what is long-term. Let’s start with, say, eight to 12 weeks,” Lamont said.

The state Department of Revenue Services will have a web portal for signups for the incentive payment, and DRS will cross-reference the unemployment claims database to determine eligibility for payment.

Unemployment reached historic highs in the COVID-19 pandemic, but, now as the state outbreak is subsiding, and most remaining coronavirus-related business restrictions are being lifted Wednesday, some employers are reporting having hiring difficulties.

Lamont said there are 65,000 job openings that need filling in Connecticut, and the latest available weekly report from the state Department of Labor showed more than 140,000 continued unemployment claims at the end of April.

The governor said he is hoping the $1,000 return-to-work bonus will provide extra incentive for the long-term unemployed to rejoin the full-time workforce.

“You see the big athletes getting a signing bonus,” he said. “Why don’t you get a signing bonus as well?”

He said the $1,000 could perhaps help pay for child care, or transportation, or clothing, or some other expenses that are presenting obstacles to some long-term unemployed people returning to work.

Lamont acknowledged that the $1,000 incentive could cause some resentment from members of the workforce who are receiving no government benefits for maintaining their employment.

“I’d say I’m doing everything I can to get people off unemployment,” he said.

A TOP REPUBLICAN LAWMAKER slammed the incentive as another government giveaway after the governor’s Monday afternoon announcement.

“Persuading people to give up one government benefit with promise of another one is a little like a dog chasing its tail,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford. “By gleefully proposing this bribe-to-work program the governor has not only ignored the role that enhanced unemployment benefits have played in employers’ inability to fill vacancies, but also the long-term economic impact of relying on what seems like a never-ending supply of federal money to fix our problems.”

Instead of offering a $1,000 payment, he said Lamont should end the $300-a-week pandemic unemployment benefit from the federal government.

Lamont ruled out taking that step when asked about the possibility during a news briefing on status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state response. He said some unemployed workers still continue to need the federal supplemental payment, and the subsidy is due to end Sept. 6.

Lamont said the state on June 1 will re-institute a requirement that unemployed workers actively seek work as a condition of receiving weekly unemployment benefits that had been suspended due to the pandemic.

THE GOVERNOR SIGNED legislation on Monday that temporarily gives the legislature greater oversight of his emergency powers during the continuing COVID-19 outbreak.

The revisions to the public health and civil preparedness emergency statutes permit the full General Assembly to reject an emergency declaration through March 2022, and a select committee of top House and Senate leaders can veto any emergency order that Lamont issues.

Lamont expressed support for making the temporary changes permanent.

“I think it does seem pretty reasonable,” he said.

Lamont said he also plans to renew the public health and civil preparedness emergencies through July 20 before they are due to sunset on Wednesday. The legislature authorized a two-month extension in a separate bill that the governor signed last week.

Lamont said favorable trends in the state outbreak are continued over the weekend

State health officials reported 668 new COVID-19 cases out of 49,908 test results that were received between Friday and Sunday for a positive test rate of 1.3%.

There was a net decline of 28 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 170 statewide. An additional 21 coronavirus-related deaths brought the death toll to 8,194.

Officials reported there have been 3,509 COVID-19 cases in Naugatuck, 937 in Prospect and 567 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 93 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to state officials.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.