Attorney General: Honorable Ronald F. Petronella, Department of Labor, 1992-007 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 28, 1992

Honorable Ronald F. Petronella
Department of Labor
200 Folly Brook Boulevard
Wethersfield, CT 06109

Dear Commissioner Petronella:

By memo dated January 27, 1992 you requested an opinion from this office on whether state law can be construed to allow the Governor the option to not implement ("trigger off") an otherwise operable extended unemployment compensation benefit program (EB) should unemployment continue to rise to a certain level in this state. The purpose of this option is to allow the state's unemployed to be subject solely to a federally-funded emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) program. You also ask, assuming such a construction is allowable, whether the Governor may delegate the authority to "trigger off" state EB, as well as the authority to make all necessary contractual arrangements with the U.S. Department of Labor for administration of the EUC program, to the Administrator of the Unemployment Compensation Act pursuant to Conn.Gen.Stat. Section 31-250.

We conclude that the law may be construed so as to allow the exercise of the option to "trigger off" EB and that the authority to do so and make contractual arrangements may be performed by the Administrator pursuant to 31-250.

The questions arise in the context of the federal program of EUC now in effect in Connecticut. The EUC program became effective on November 17, 1991 with the enactment of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 1991, Public Law 102-164. The twenty weeks of EUC benefits which are provided to claimants who have exhausted their regular benefits are entirely federally funded.

Connecticut also has its EB program. Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-232b through  31-2321. Extended benefits are payable to an individual who has exhausted regular benefits during an "eligibility period". Conn.Gen.Stat. Sec. 31-232d. An "eligibility period" consists of weeks which begin within an extended benefit period. Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-232b(8). An "extended benefit period" is triggered on through a series of complex calculations described in Conn.Gen.Stat.  31-232b(a)(1). This thirteen week program becomes operative when the state's insured employment rate (IUR) reaches or exceeds five percent. The IUR represents the portion of the work force collecting benefits as opposed to the portion of the population out of work. Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-232b(4).

There is a concern that Connecticut's IUR may reach this threshold level. The nature of the concern is that when a state triggers onto its own EB program, EUC eligibility is suspended until the claimant exhausts his EB entitlement. However, Public Law 102-164 also provides that when a state reaches an EB trigger after the effective date of the EUC Act, the Governor may elect to trigger off the state Extended Benefit period "if state law permits." See Section 101(e) of the EUC.

The Administrator considers the exercise of the federal option to be very beneficial because it would shift the entire cost of extended unemployment benefits to the federal government. This would represent a savings of millions of dollars to Connecticut employers in rates because they would be relieved of their fifty percent share of the EB funding burden. It does this in addition to providing up to twenty weeks of additional coverage to Connecticut's workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor has indicated its intent to allow for the exercise of the option provided nothing in state law prevents it. Therefore, the question arises as to whether state law prohibits the nonimplementation of the EB program so as to take advantage of the favorable option. A U.S. Department of Labor administration letter directed to all state employment security agencies states that so long as a state's unemployment compensation law includes provisions for a liberal interpretation of its provisions or a recognition that the economic well-being of its citizenry is an important consideration in its interpretation, it will find no problem with a state Attorney General's opinion that the state can "trigger off" its own EB program.

There is statutory authority within the State Unemployment Compensation Act which allows for the exercise of this option. The option provides for the needs of those out of work and additionally benefits its citizens by providing tax savings. The Administrator has broad authority to so promote the public interest and to cooperate with the federal government. Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-250 provides as follows:

Administration. Duties and powers of administrator. (a) In administering this chapter, the administrator may adopt such regulations, employ such persons, make such expenditures, require such reports, make such investigations and take such other action as may be necessary or suitable. Such regulations shall be effective upon publication in the manner which the administrator prescribes. As provided in section 4-60, the administrator shall submit to the governor a report covering the administration and operation of this chapter during the preceding fiscal year and shall make such recommendations for amendments to this chapter as he deems proper. The administrator shall comply with the provisions of Section 303(a)(6) and (7) of the Federal Social Security Act, and of Section 303(c), added to the Federal Social Security Act by Section 13(g) of the Federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. The administrator is authorized to receive the reimbursement of federal share of extended benefits paid under the provisions of sections 31-232b to 31-232h, inclusive, and section 31-232k that are reimbursable under the provisions of federal law.

(b) In the administration of this chapter, the administrator shall cooperate with the United States Department of Labor to the fullest extent consistent with the provisions of this chapter, and shall take such action, through the adoption of appropriate rules, regulations, administrative methods and standards, as may be necessary to secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the Social Security Act that relate to unemployment compensation, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, the Wagner-Peyser Act, and other appropriate federal law. (Emphasis added).

Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-274(c) through (e) also provides authority for the exercise of the option. The option there is not only consistent with federal law, it derives its existence from this source.

(d) In the event of any conflict between any provision of this chapter and applicable federal law increases or extended benefits, coverage or eligibility beyond the provisions of this chapter, the provisions of this chapter shall be construed to be in conformity with the law of the United States.

(e) As applied to this chapter, any amendment in the statute law of the United States which would by implication amend or repeal any provision of this chapter, where such amendment or repealer will increase or extend benefits, coverage or eligibility, shall be deemed and construed to be a provision of this chapter and the law of this state.

Case law also supports this conclusion. The implementation of the EB program benefits both Connecticut workers and employers during difficult economic times. Therefore, the exercise of this option is consistent with the remedial purpose of the Unemployment Compensation Act and the principle of its liberal construction with respect to beneficiaries. Burnham v. Administrator, 184 Conn. 317, 325, 439 A.2d 1008 (1981); Halabi v. Administrator, 171 Conn. 316, 322, 370 A.2d 938 (1976). It enables a construction of the Act consistent with its history, language and purpose that it is designed to serve. Board of Education v. Board of Labor Relations, 201 Conn. 685, 690, 519 A.2d 41 (1986); State v. Kozlowski, 199 Conn. 677, 673, 674, 509 A.2d 20 (1986).

In regard to your second question, it is clear that the Governor may delegate to the Unemployment Compensation Act Administrator the authority to "trigger off" state EB and to make the necessary arrangements to administer the EUC program. Conn.Gen.Stat. 3-1 enables the Governor "personally or though any authorized agent ... [to] take any proper action concerning ... the laws of the state and the protection of its citizens."

The governor is designated ... to apply for any funds ... for any ... purpose which the Congress of the United States has authorized.... The governor may designate any commissioner ... to apply for, accept and expend funds allocated or payable to the state ... under any Act of Congress....

Conn.Gen.Stat. 4-28(a)-(b). Conn.Gen.Stat. 31-250 specifically authorizes his agent, the Administrator, to take such "action ... necessary or suitable ... to secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the Social Security Act that relate to unemployment compensation...."

Therefore, we conclude that the law may be construed so as to allow the exercise of the option to "trigger off" EB and that the authority to do so and make contractual arrangements may be performed by the Administrator.

Very truly yours,

Richard Blumenthal
Attorney General

Thadd A. Gnocchi
Assistant Attorney General

RB/TAG/jd

January 27, 1992

TO: Charles Overend Assistant Attorney General
FROM: George M. Wentworth Director, Program Policy 6316
SUBJECT: Authority to "trigger off" Extended Benefits

As you are aware, there is currently a federal program of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) in effect in Connecticut. The EUC program became effective on November 17, 1991 with the enactment of Public Law 102-164. Attached is a federal program letter describing the major provisions of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, as well as a copy of the Act itself.

The 20 weeks of EUC benefits are entirely federally funded. Connecticut also has an Extended Benefits (EB) program (Conn.Gen.Stat. Sec. 31-232b to 31-2321) which is funded 50% by employer taxes and 50% by the federal government. This 13-week program triggers on when the state's insured unemployment rate (IUR) reaches or exceeds 5 percent. When a state triggers onto its own EB program, EUC eligibility is suspended until the claimant exhausts his EB entitlement. However, Public Law 102-164 also provides that when a state reaches an EB trigger after the effective date of the EUC Act, the Governor may elect to trigger off the state Extended Benefit period "if state law permits" (emphasis added). See Section 101(e) of the EUC Act. This option would obviously be very beneficial because it would shift the entire cost of extended unemployment benefits onto the federal government (and relieve Connecticut employers of their 50 percent share of the funding burden). The U.S. Department of Labor has indicated that it will consider an interpretation by the Attorney General that Connecticut law permits the state to trigger off Extended Benefits (EB) as sufficient to justify a state's election to "trigger off" its own EB program.

Extended Benefits are payable to an individual who has exhausted regular benefits during an "eligibility period". Conn.Gen.Stat. Sec. 31-232d. An "eligibility period" consists of weeks which begin within an extended benefit period. Conn.Gen.Stat. Sec. 31-232b(8). An "extended benefit period" is triggered on

through a series of complex calculations described in Conn.Gen.Stat. Sec. 31-232b(a)(1).

As you can see from the attached federal questions and answers, dated December 16, 1991 (pp. 12-13), the U.S. Department of Labor is taking the position that so long as a state's unemployment compensation law includes provisions for a liberal interpretation of its provisions or a recognition that the economic well-being of its citizenry is an important consideration in its interpretation, it will find no problem with a state Attorney General's opinion that the state can trigger off its own EB program.

In my view, such provisions calling for liberal interpretation of the Unemployment Compensation Act do exist. Specifically, these include Conn.Gen.Stat. Section 31-250.

Administration. Duties and powers of administrator. (a) In administering this chapter, the administrator may adopt such regulations, employ such persons, make such expenditures, require such reports, make such investigations and take such other action as may be necessary or suitable. Such regulations shall be effective upon publication in the manner which the administrator prescribes. As provided in section 4-60, the administrator shall submit to the governor a report covering the administration and operation of this chapter during the preceding fiscal year and shall make such recommendations for amendments to this chapter as he deems proper. The administrator shall comply with the provisions of Section 303(a)(6) and (7) of the Federal Social Security Act, and of Section 303(c), added to the Federal Social Security Act by Section 13(g) of the Federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. The administrator is authorized to receive the reimbursement of federal share of extended benefits paid under the provisions of sections 31-232b to 31-232h, inclusive, and section 31-232k that are reimbursable under the provisions of federal law.

(b) In the administration of this chapter, the administrator shall cooperate with the United States Department of Labor to the fullest extent consistent with the provisions of this chapter, and shall take such action, through the adoption of appropriate rules, regulations, administrative methods and standards, as may be necessary to secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the Social Security Act that relate to unemployment compensation, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, the Wagner-Peyser Act, and other appropriate federal law. (emphasis added.)

Conn.Gen.Stat. Sections 31-274(c) through (e) reads as follows:

(c) The provisions of this chapter shall be construed, interpreted and administered in such manner as to presume coverage, eligibility and nondisqualification in doubtful cases.

(d) In the event of any conflict between any provision of this chapter and applicable federal law in respect to payment of benefits, coverage or eligibility, the federal law shall prevail if said federal law increases or extended benefits, coverage or eligibility beyond the provisions of this chapter, and the provisions of this chapter shall be construed to be in conformity with the law of the United States.

(e) As applied to this chapter, any amendment in the statute law of the United States which would by implication amend or repeal any provision of this chapter, where such amendment or repealer will increase or extend benefits, coverage or eligibility, shall be deemed and construed to be a provision of this chapter and the law of this state.

Would your office please provide an informal opinion as to whether or not state law can be construed to allow the Governor the option to elect to "trigger off" EB so that the state's unemployed may be subject solely to the federally-funded EUC program? In addition, assuming such a construction, would you comment on whether the Governor may delegate the authority to trigger off state EB, as well as the authority to make all necessary contractual arrangements with the U.S. Department of Labor for administration of the EUC program, to the Administrator of the Unemployment Compensation Act pursuant to Conn.Gen.Stat. Section 31-250. Securing an answer to these questions is vital since a negative response to either will probably necessitate the need to introduce a legislative proposal granting explicit authority.

Please call me if you or your staff have any questions. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.


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