HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration announced Thursday that it has organized an outreach effort to help more than 12,000 long-term jobless workers receive an array of social services after losing extended unemployment insurance benefits.
The announcement came less than an hour after the state Department of Labor said the unemployment rate remained stuck at 7.7 percent in April.
Connecticut's unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 9.4 percent in December 2010. The falling unemployment rate — while welcome as the state and the rest of the U.S. climb out of the Great Recession — has prompted federal officials to cut extended benefits put in place during the downturn. As a result, individuals who might have expected 99 weeks of unemployment are now eligible for 73 weeks.
And for thousands of the unemployed, it could get worse. A report to Malloy on Thursday from state Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall and Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby said that as of Jan. 3, 2013, the maximum unemployment benefit in Connecticut will be 26 weeks unless Congress acts to change it.
Malloy directed Marshall and Bremby last month to come up with a plan to help those whose unemployment benefits will be cut.
"Clearly, this is an outreach program," Malloy said. "We're trying to get out there. We're trying to make sure these folks are OK, to get the services they need and are entitled to."
A report to Malloy from his two commissioners said Department of Social Services data show that the agency already is serving about a third of those who are facing an unexpected loss of unemployment benefits, with a large portion receiving food stamps.
Of those who don't receive benefits, the Social Services Department projects that half might become eligible for social services because of the loss of their unemployment income.
Mark Sharpentier, who says he is making a fraction of what he used to be paid after losing his job three years ago at a bicycle cooperative, is participating in a state Labor Department employment program.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he said. "You're talking to a guy who has a little bit of an ego."
Sharpentier, 51, said his unemployment benefits ran out 18 months ago and he cashed in his individual retirement account. He sells doors to make some money, but it's not enough for him in Fairfield County, one of the nation's wealthiest counties.
The departments of Labor and Social Services, United Way, Connecticut's five Workforce Investments Boards and Community Action Agencies will work together to help the unemployed who have lost benefits with crisis intervention if needed, job training, connections to job recruiting, apprenticeships and other services.
The Department of Social Services also will assess applicants to determine if they're eligible for food stamps, health care coverage, child care assistance or other benefits.
Sharpentier said felt "very blessed" to be in a state jobs program, but he was frustrated by the paperwork and worries that food stamp money might be insufficient.
"I might as well set up an appointment to sell another door," Sharpentier said.
Malloy said he recognizes the limits of his administration's efforts.
"These are temporary solutions," he said. "The best outcome is for people to find jobs."