Unemployed workers in Connecticut -- many living on the edge -- see relief after President Trump finally signs coronavirus pandemic stimulus

Stephen Singer, Hartford Courant

With much relief, unemployed workers in Connecticut like Rosemary Popick, can finally count on much-needed money from Washington to help blunt the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Popick, who lost her job as a server in a Shelton restaurant in March, said she is less concerned with the late arrival of $300 a week in unemployment benefits than the expectation it is finally on the way.

“It’s huge. Huge,” she said Monday.

After days of contentious back-and-forth between Congress and the White House, President Donald Trump Sunday signed a $900 billion stimulus measure, sidestepping the threat of a veto he hinted at days earlier and avoiding uncertainty and chaos for recipients of government aid.

The legislation will provide billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, schools, help for hospitals, small businesses struggling to meet their payrolls, jobless workers looking for a bump in unemployment compensation and tenants who face eviction.

Popick, of Stratford, said she has money to “fall back on, but it’s not going to last forever.” She receives $121 a week in state unemployment benefits, after taxes, and is looking for jobs that are difficult to find in her industry, restaurants.

A supplemental $600-a-week federal unemployment benefit that Popick said was “much needed” expired at the end of July. The delay in Congress to renew COVID-19 relief aid was due partly to a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over how much supplemental unemployment benefits should be.

After receiving the legislation with the compromise on unemployment aid, Trump called the measure a “disgrace” and demanded the sum be raised to $2,000. Fellow Republicans in Congress reject the increase.

“It’s just ridiculous that the people in Washington just can’t work together,” Popick said. “These are people’s lives and their livelihoods.”

Tied to a $1.4 trillion spending bill, the measure became law less than 48 hours before the federal government would have shut down and days before a Dec. 31 eviction moratorium and other pandemic relief provisions were set to expire.

However, two unemployment programs lapsed, ensuring that benefits for tens of thousands of unemployed workers in Connecticut will be delayed.

About 35,000 unemployed workers in Connecticut could have lost temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance if Trump vetoed the bill. A spokeswoman said Monday the state Department of Labor is working on details about distribution of the federal assistance.

The stimulus also includes more than $230 million in emergency rental assistance for Connecticut. The money, about 1 percent of the $25 billion in the legislation, can be used to pay for rental assistance in the future and for back rent to help tenants avoid evictions.

A moratorium on evictions set to expire Friday was extended to Jan. 31. In Connecticut a moratorium is due to end Feb. 9.

The Connecticut Fair Housing Center is asking state officials to give landlords some, but not all, of what’s owed to allow tenants to remain in place for seven to eight months as they seek work, said Executive Director Erin Kemple.

More than 5,000 eviction cases have been filed in Housing Court since the start of the pandemic and 100 new cases a week are filed, she said. Following evictions, tenants often move in with friends or family, which leads to a spike in COVID-19, she said.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.