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Lamont announces $1,000 bonus for unemployed people who find work

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a new initiative Monday to get people back to work.

Beginning May 24, the state will pay a $1,000 "signing bonus" to the first 10,000 people who have been unemployed for a minimum of eight weeks and get a full-time job. The individuals who qualify must work eight weeks at their new jobs in order to receive the $1,000 bonus.

 “The work participation rate, meaning the (percentage) of the eligible population working, has gone down,” Lamont said Monday. “We were at 70% of the eligible population working or looking for work just 10-15 years ago. We were at 65% five years ago, or before the pandemic. And now we’re at about 60%.”

Lamont cited multiple reasons for the dip, including elderly people deciding to retire in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, general fear about the virus, and women being pushed out of the workforce due to child care issues related to the pandemic. 

The approximately $10 million in funding for the signing bonus program comes from the federal CARES Act and will also include state money. Lamont said the state is considering “long-term unemployed” as between eight and 12 weeks. The state Department of Revenue Services is going to have a website so that program applicants can note when they got the new job, and the state will track that against the person’s unemployment claims. In order to qualify, the new job must be full-time.

During a news conference Monday, Lamont said he has not considered ending the $300 federal unemployment program as other states have done, but as of June 1, the state will again require people to demonstrate they’ve been searching for work to receive unemployment payments. 

The governor explained the impetus for the $1,000 signing bonus. 

“Work is going to pay. It’s worth looking for that job right now. We need you at restaurants, we need you at grocery stores, there are a lot of jobs out there,” Lamont said. “We have 65,000 job openings right now that we need filled.” 

Lamont addresses Wednesday's reopening

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to socially distance or wear masks indoors or outdoors, with some conditions. Lamont said last week that Connecticut will conclude its indoor mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated beginning May 19.

The state had already planned to end all business restrictions on Wednesday when masks will not be required outdoors even for those who are unvaccinated. Those who have been vaccinated will not be required to wear masks indoors. Lamont has said consistently that businesses will decide whether to require masking and proof of vaccination.

Masks are still required in certain settings, such as health care facilities, facilities housing vulnerable populations, transportation including planes and trains, as well as in schools. 

The governor’s Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe answered a question about whether a business asking for proof of vaccination would be breaking any privacy laws.

“We’re not concerned about that. Everyone has the choice not to answer the question or to go shop somewhere else,” he said. “This is not a lot different than the old, ‘No shoes, no shirt, no service’ adage. Vaccines are an important part of keeping people safe right now.”

Lamont said the state is monitoring the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations to see if it should reinstitute some restrictions, but if at least 80% of the population is vaccinated, restrictions can remain relaxed in the future. He said he doesn’t foresee needing any punishments related to the new masking rules such as fines for unvaccinated people who refuse to wear a mask inside a business.

“At this point, store owners would ask people to leave if they say they’re not vaccinated and they refuse to wear a mask,” Lamont said. “That contradicts our rules and CDC rules. I hope that’s enough. I think if people were purposefully defiant and making life complicated … then yes, we would institute a fine. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Updated COVID-19 statistics

Connecticut has now administered 2,034,040 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest state numbers, with 1,685,650 people fully vaccinated and nearly 3,600,000 total doses administered. About 90% of those aged 65 or older have received at least their first dose; about 80% of people aged 55-64; 70% of those aged 45-54; more than 60% of 35-44-year-olds; more than half of people 25-34; about 50% of people 18-24; and 12% of kids aged 12-15.

Since Friday, 662 additional cases of COVID-19 were reported throughout the state, bringing the total to 345,639. Almost 50,000 tests have been reported since Friday, with a positivity rate of 1.33%. 

Hospitalizations decreased by 28 during the weekend, bringing the total number of people now hospitalized in the state to 170. There have been 21 more deaths in the three days, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 8,194. 

New London County has eight people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The county has 22,361 total cases and 446 deaths, the same number as one week ago on May 10. On Monday, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital reported three hospitalizations, and Westerly Hospital reported none.

Lamont took a moment at the end of Monday's news conference to hark back to May 20, 2020, which is when Connecticut's long-term reopening plan began.

"It was March 10, 2020 that we had our first business restrictions," he said. "It was May 20, soon thereafter, that we started reopening. Back then it was just outdoor dining with a mask. It was non-essential businesses could then open at 50% capacity. We've been gradually reopening, I think with some success, Connecticut, thanks to you." 

s.spinella@theday.com

 

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