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Lamont Announces “Back to Work CT” Program, Updated Mask Protocols

  • Governor Ned Lamont announced that Connecticut will debut an program to give a $1,000 bonus to 10,000 long-term unemployed individuals to encourage them to return to work
  • With businesses struggling to fill available job openings, some are saying enhanced unemployment benefits are providing a disincentive for people to return to work
  • Lamont also introduces updated mask rules, including ability of businesses to continue requiring universal masking

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Governor Ned Lamont says Connecticut will be introducing a new incentive aiming to encourage long-term unemployed residents to find work. The announcement came on the same day that Lamont released updated mask requirements for the state as it prepares to lift all business restrictions on Wednesday.

Employment incentive

The $10 million incentive program, administered through the Department of Revenue Services, will provide a $1,000 bonus for 10,000 long-term unemployed people if they are able to find work. Lamont said the incentive is designed to assist residents who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and have been struggling to find good-paying jobs that match their skills and families’ needs.

Residents are eligible for the bonus if they have filed a state unemployment claim in the week immediately before May 30; if they obtain and maintain a full-time job for eight consecutive weeks before Dec. 31; and if they do not receive unemployment benefits during that time. Workers may only receive one bonus, and the Department of Revenue Services is developing an application for the program to be published on its website.

The program follows an underwhelming April jobs report, as businesses struggle to fill available job openings despite elevated unemployment. Several Republican lawmakers have blamed a $300-a-week enhanced unemployment benefit offered as part of federal COVID-19 relief, saying it is a disincentive for people to return to work – especially if the income from the benefit exceeds the wages of a lower-paying job. Economists have also said fear of contracting COVID-19, child care needs, lack of necessary skills, and dissatisfaction with available salaries and benefits have contributed to labor shortages.

Lamont said the incentive program is designed to complement existing efforts in Connecticut to alleviate other concerns by improving access to COVID-19 vaccines and affordable child care, offering workforce development opportunities, and promoting fair wages. The incentive will be supported by Connecticut’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which utilizes federal funding obtained through the CARES Act.

The Connecticut Department of Labor also plans to reinstate pre-pandemic work search requirements at the end of the month for unemployment recipients, while also reinstating guidance on what constitutes suitable work. These requirements were waived during the pandemic due to widespread difficulties in obtaining work, but 29 states have since reinstated them.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate has remained above 8 percent since August, standing at 8.3 percent in March while the national rate stood at 6 percent. However, Lamont said there are signs that the state’s economy is recovering, including the addition of 17,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2021.

Mask requirements

Lamont also issued updated mask requirements for the state, following a recent announcement that Connecticut will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and not require individuals who are vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks indoors starting on Wednesday. The state also plans to lift all remaining business restrictions on that day.

The updated requirements state that:

  • Masks are no longer required in outdoor settings
  • Vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks in indoor settings
  • Unvaccinated individuals must still wear masks indoors
  • Businesses, state and local offices, and events can still choose to require universal masking
  • Masks will still be required in certain settings, including health care facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools, and child care facilities

The updated rules follow concerns raised by businesses about CDC and Connecticut guidance, including whether they will be responsible for ensuring that only vaccinated people don’t wear masks and the potential for increased health risks if unvaccinated people do not abide by the rule to continue wearing masks.

The Department of Public Health will issue updated guidance on mask recommendations and considerations for large events and gatherings, businesses, and other settings on Wednesday.

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