COVID-19 Is Tearing Through Connecticut’s Population, And Its Budget
This post has been updated.
The state fielded 40,000 more unemployment claims over the last 18 days than it did for all of last year.
It’s a staggering number, one that comes as the state government awaits its share of a $2 trillion federal relief package that could take until the end of April to arrive. And it’s just one more measure of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
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In a little over two weeks, the state Department of Labor received 220,000 unemployment claims.
“Obviously we’re struggling to keep up,” Lamont said Thursday. “There’s a long wait on unemployment claims.”
That wait is about five or six weeks.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” Lamont said. “Give us four or five days, we’re working on an end-around, working with a fix that would allow us to have an expedited process on this.”
Right now, it’s unclear what that fix would be. But Lamont told reporters the state is working with private partners to develop upgrades to the Department of Labor’s decades-old processing systems.
Meanwhile, Lamont said the state government’s share of the federal relief package is estimated at $1.45 billion, but he doesn’t expect to get that money before April 27.
Before COVID-19 hit Connecticut, Lamont said the state was expecting a revenue shortfall of $60 million for the fiscal year ending June 30.
That shortfall is now estimated at $500 million.
“Almost all of that … is related to income tax and sales tax revenue going down,” Lamont said.
As COVID-19 Cases Continue To Grow, Hotels To Be Restricted
Lamont said he expected to sign an additional executive order Thursday that would restrict hotel and short-term rentals to workers the state has deemed essential, such as health care workers, law enforcement and other first responders.
“Not leisure travel. Not vacationers,” Lamont said. “[We’re] trying to make sure that is not just prioritized -- but exclusively for essential workers.”
The new restriction on the hospitality industry comes as the state on Thursday reported 267 new COVID-19 cases and an additional 27 deaths of Connecticut residents.
The state's death toll from coronavirus stands at 112, with the majority, 65 people, in Fairfield County.
Changes To Retail Shopping Start Friday
Retail stores around Connecticut will be required to limit the number of customers allowed inside stores, effective Friday. The new rules, part of Lamont’s 20th executive order since he declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies less than a month ago, applies to all retailers in Connecticut, not just grocery stores.
The rules are similar to an agreement worked out by Connecticut grocers earlier this week. Store occupancy will be capped at 50% of its local fire code capacity, and staff will maintain a count of the number of customers entering and exiting a building.
On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the governor said local and state police “have the authority to respond” if the rules are ignored. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Lamont said he didn’t think that would be the case.
“People are taking this thing seriously,” Lamont said. “We’ve had the municipal police, we’ve had the state police -- we’ve gone and we checked. We looked at places where there are apparently going to be crowds. We worried about that. And we found that, in almost all cases, people are taking these social dictates pretty seriously. And, frankly, the customers are taking it seriously, as well.”
As a result of the executive order, retailers also will be making some changes inside their stores.
The Department of Economic and Community Development published its “Safe Store” rules Wednesday night, which describe the following changes: clearly marked 6-foot demarcations in high-traffic areas and one-way aisles “where practicable” to maximize the distance between customers.
Stores are also advised to install plexiglass shields to separate employees from customers at checkout lines.
Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents grocers across the state, said earlier this week that the measures would be temporary. But he suggested that some best practices could last beyond the pandemic.
“Like the plexiglass shields,” Pesce said, “if that’s something that we’ve installed and they make sense to keep up, we will. But all of this stuff is going to recede and go back to what it was prior to this.”
The DECD said store employees should wear gloves and face masks.
The agency is also advising retailers to allow “touchless” credit card transactions to minimize the number of customers using common touch pads or pens to sign for a purchase -- a concern recently raised to Connecticut Public Radio by a Torrington pharmacist.
Grace Period For Insurance Payments
Lamont’s newest executive order also establishes a 60-day grace period for insurance payments.
The order effectively means no insurer in Connecticut may terminate coverage if a qualified policyholder fails to make payments during this time.
“We’re in a health care crisis,” Lamont said Wednesday. “No one’s losing their health insurance because of this.”
Lamont’s office said the order applies to “life, health, auto, property, casualty and other types” of insurance. The grace period is not a waiver or forgiveness of payment, and it’s not automatic.
To be eligible, affected policyholders must provide additional information acceptable to their insurance carriers that demonstrates a loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More From Wednesday’s Executive Order
Other components of the executive order Lamont issued Wednesday would:
- Make it easier for the state government to expand Medicaid-funded health care programs for the poor. Normally, when the government wants to make changes -- such as broadening eligibility requirements -- it cannot do so until certain state legislative committees conduct public hearings. Any waivers still would have to be approved by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- Require cities and towns to offer temporary relief on delinquent property tax payments by landlords, provided those landlords offer similar relief to residential and businesses tenants who are late with rent.
- Allow elderly homeowners eligible for a property tax rate freeze to receive this benefit without having to file annual eligibility recertification forms.
- Permit 34 municipalities to continue with ongoing property revaluation programs without having to conduct full, in-person inspections of property. In lieu of this requirement, municipalities can require property owners to complete and submit a questionnaire by mail.
On Thursday, the Department of Revenue Services announced it has extended the filing and payment deadlines for Connecticut gift tax returns from April 15 to July 15. Donors must pay a state gift tax if they provided aggregate gifts during 2019 in excess of $3.6 million. This extension does not apply to the Connecticut estate tax.
CT Mirror reporter Keith Phaneuf contributed to this story.