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Self-Employed Residents Affected By Pandemic Could Receive Jobless Benefits In About A Week

COVID-19 rapid testing center
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A sign directs traffic for Connecticut's first COVID-19 rapid testing center in New Haven on April 20, 2020. The operation is taking place on the former Gateway Community College campus.

The state Labor Department launched the final phase Thursday of a new federal program to provide cash benefits to self-employed workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Some applicants could begin receiving benefits by direct deposit in just over a week

This component of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) went online in the morning, Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said, adding it ultimately could provide up to $649 per week in benefits to more than 40,000 contractors, freelancers and other self-employed individuals.

“Due to the pandemic and the devastating effect it has had on many that are self-employed, for the first time ever, these individuals are facing workplace situations never seen before,” Westby said. “Unemployment benefits will help them weather such challenging times and help our economy recover faster.”

Self-employed individuals normally are ineligible for unemployment benefits because — unlike other employers — they do not pay into the system.

Those who apply for PUA benefits go through a two-stage process.

Initially they must apply for state unemployment benefits, after which they will receive a letter by traditional mail that restates — among other things — what they already know: that they’re ineligible for state benefits.

But it also will direct them to gather information on their 2019 earnings and then return to the state website at filectui.com. Self-employed workers affected by the pandemic then can complete their request for the federal PUA benefits.

PUA applicants will need to provide various 2019 federal tax forms and W-2 statements in the second phase of the application process. Those without tax records can self-attest to their earnings, but they will be subject to audit.

Applicants also will be asked in Phase Two to cite the date when COVID-19 impacted their employment.

State labor officials last week urged self-employed workers affected by the pandemic to begin the first phase of the application process, and that stage two of the application process would be online and ready by this week.

Officials had hoped to have it ready to go earlier this week, but Westby and Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo said it involved making even more programming modifications to the department’s 40-year-old IT system.

“I think we met our goal. We’re dealing with a 40-year-old system,” Westby said. “We have to do a lot of testing.”

More than 38,000 self-employed workers already have completed the first phase of the application process and the commissioner estimated more than 40,000 Connecticut individuals ultimately will receive PUA benefits.

Those who are approved may receive assistance for up to 39 weeks retroactive to Feb. 2.

Bartolomeo urged applicants for the PUA benefit to provide a savings or checking account number so that funds can be transferred via direct deposit.

Hospitalizations dip

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Yale New Haven Health’s multi-hospital system has dropped from about 700 a week ago down to 600, officials said Thursday.

Marna Borgstrom, the system’s CEO, said at a video briefing that there are currently 360 coronavirus patients at Yale New Haven Hospital, 151 at Bridgeport Hospital, 54 at Greenwich Hospital, 27 at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London and one at Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island.

The system has conducted about 35,000 tests for the virus and that about 9,000 of those tests have come back positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Thomas Balcezak, chief clinical officer for Yale New Haven Health, said the system now has the capability of processing about 1,000 tests a day through its laboratories and officials hope to be expanding that to 3,000 lab tests per day by next week.

But shortages of testing kits and necessary supplies continue to be the most challenging and limiting factor in expanding coronavirus testing. Balcezak said the goal is to expand to 10,000 tests per day by June.

“We hope by August to be able to do 20,000 tests per day,” Borgstrom said, adding that the ultimate goal of Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is to be able to conduct 50,000 tests a day across Connecticut.

“That is a very tall order,” she said. Reaching that goal will depend on consistent access to testing kits, supplies, staffing and laboratory capacity.

Balcezak said Yale New Haven’s experience with COVID-19 is consistent with what’s happened at hospitals in Europe and China. He said about 80 percent of people who test positive experience mild symptoms, about 15 percent require hospitalization, and approximately 5 percent require intensive care and/or ventilation.

One unusual aspect of the disease, Balcezak said, is that about 50 percent of COVID-19 patients experience “extreme fatigue … that can last for weeks.” In the most severe cases, “The body’s immune system starts attacking organs in the body,” he said.

“It’s really important to remember that we are not through with this,” Balcezak said.

Commenting on new projections concerning pandemic deaths in this state by mid-June, Balcezak said, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4,000 deaths in Connecticut” if current trends continue.

Hospitalizations in the Hartford Healthcare system also dropped gradually for the third day in a row this week, from 314 coronavirus patients on Tuesday, to 307 Wednesday and to 304 Thursday.

“It’s a good sign,” Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for the Hartford Healthcare system, said this week of the slow decline in hospitalizations. He warned that there will be “some ups and downs” in the numbers during the weeks ahead and that Connecticut needs to go slow about easing social distancing and reopening the economy.

“We need to be very cautious at this time,” Kumar said, adding that a too-swift reopening of the state’s businesses could lead to a resurgence of the pandemic.

But Kumar said that, if most state controls over the economy and personal social distancing are continued, “I think we should be able to weather the storm at this time.”

Hartford Hospital continues to have the largest number of COVID-19 patients in the system with 139, followed by St. Vincent’s Medical Center with 74 and the Hospital of Central Connecticut with 48.

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