As other governors have announced plans to end a $300 a week supplemental unemployment benefit to encourage people to find work, Connecticut is offering a much different incentive: a $1,000 signing bonus.
Starting May 24, up to 10,000 people considered to have been unemployed for the “long-term” will be able to sign up on the state Department of Labor's website and ultimately get paid the bonus after they've spent eight weeks in their new full-time job.
“You see the big athletes get a signing bonus. Why don’t you get a signing bonus as well,” asked Lamont, a Democrat, who announced the new initiative on Monday.
While more than a dozen states, most with Republican governors, have recently announced they will stop providing the extra benefit paid by the federal government, which is set to expire in September, Lamont said he didn't consider taking that step. He acknowledged there are still residents afraid to work because of COVID-19 and thought it was fair to keep the $300 benefit in place.
“But that said, I wanted to do everything I could to incent people to get back to work, make it easier for them to be able to get back to work. If it’s child care, if it's transportation, if it’s clothing, maybe the $1,000 helps.” he said. “It makes it a little easier for them to get back in the game.”
In March, Lamont announced plans to spend $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funds over two years for additional child care through the state's Care4Kids program to help parents who lost jobs during the pandemic and need childcare as they receive training for new work.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, criticized Lamont's $1,000 bonus, which will be paid for with federal relief money. He urged the governor to instead opt out of the $300 weekly unemployment program which he said has played a role in employers' inability to fill vacancies.
“Persuading people to give up one government benefit with promise of another one is a little like a dog chasing its tail,” he said.
Lamont said rules for the new program will be released in about a day. He said long-term unemployed could mean about eight to 12 weeks without a job. Meanwhile, Connecticut is expected on June 1 to again require people receiving unemployment benefits to regularly report their job searches to the Department of Labor, according to the governor. That requirement has been suspended during the pandemic.
In other coronavirus-related news:
Lamont reiterated Monday that vaccinated people in Connecticut will not be required to wear facemasks indoors beginning on Wednesday, but businesses, state and local governments may choose to require everyone to mask up.
The governor acknowledged there has been some confusion since he announced last week that Connecticut was changing its original plan. The state had planned to require vaccinated and unvaccinated people to still wear masks on Wednesday, when most remaining restrictions on businesses are scheduled to be lifted. But state officials suddenly dropped the mask mandate for vaccinated people after the federal government released new guidance last week.
“Indoors, you’ve got to wear the mask if you’re unvaccinated. That’s the rule,” Lamont said. “If you’re vaccinated, look, if you’re able to keep your distance, you’re not worried about it, that's OK.”
Masks will still be required in certain settings, including health care facilities, places where vulnerable populations reside, public and private transit, prisons, child care facilities and schools. The state Department of Public Health is expected to soon release recommendations for masks in businesses, large gatherings and events, and other settings, as well as more details about where masks will continue to be required. Meanwhile, masks will not be required outdoors.
Lamont said he hopes this latest change will encourage more people to get vaccinated, noting there are dozens of clinics across Connecticut that no longer require appointments to receive a shot.
As of Monday, more than 1.6 million people in Connecticut have been fully vaccinated. He said the state is “off to a good start” in vaccinating kids 12 to 15, noting 12% of that cohort was vaccinated in the first four days of eligibility.
“I think that you’re going to see that age group get vaccinated pretty quickly,” Lamont said. These are kids. They just want to get out there and play with their soccer team, not have to worry about quarantines, not have to worry about a mask. And I don’t blame them."
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases of COVID-19 has dropped in Connecticut by 315.4, a decrease of 49.4%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. The number of hospitalizations has declined by 28 since Friday, for a total of 170. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-associated deaths in the state grew by 21 since Friday, for a total of 8,194 people.