NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut’s paid family and medical leave program, which provides wage replacement for those who need to take time away from work to address qualifying health or family concerns, changed this year.

Connecticut is only one of a few states nationwide that has a paid leave, but since the program began granting benefits to eligible applicants, workers who need paid time off have flooded the system. 

News 8 looked into the backlog of claims and what is being done to fix it.

Workers in Connecticut can now claim 12 weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period, instead of 8 weeks every 2 years.

Alexa Santiago of Waterbury wanted to bond with her newborn. The first-time mom submitted a paid family leave application on Feb. 9. 

“I said, okay, let me take like a look into this,” Santiago said.

Two months go by. Baby Lincoln was born. The state finally approved her request on April 28. More than two weeks after the birth. Bills were piling up.

“My car payment, car insurance, diapers, milk, groceries, everything,” Santiago said.

Andrea Barton Reeves, the CEO of the CT Paid Leave Authority, said COVID-19 created a backlog. 

“If you got your claim approved, and it took a little longer to get your money, and we know that. and we apologize for that, but the glitches that were responsible for that have been cleared,” Barton Reeves said.

Reeves said about 50,000 applications have been processed with a 70% approval rating, and the staff is ironing out the hiccups.

Santiago’s first check didn’t come until May — nearly three weeks without no income. She survived with help from her family and boyfriend.

“I had money saved, and that’s pretty much it,” Santiago said. “I had nothing.”

A baby formula shortage added to the stress. She could only find a ready-to-feed liquid formula. State recipients of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional funding do not allow her to purchase the liquid formula; only the powder version is approved.

“I called my case manager every single day, and I got the same answer,” Santiago said. “‘We are working on it. We are working on it. We are working on it.'”

In the beginning, new moms like Santiago had to apply twice. Once for maternity leave, and a second time for bonding. New moms now only need to apply once, according to Barton Reeves.

“It seems like it’s more convenient,” Barton Reeves said. “That’s what our customers want, so we changed the policy.”

While Santiago is back at work, she is still waiting for her last check and trying to enjoy her firstborn.

“He’s happy. He smiles. He’s perfect,” she said.

To file a claim, workers are encouraged to submit applications online, which is the fastest way to apply, by visiting ctpaidleave.org. Those who do not have access to the internet, or who have questions and would like to speak with an Aflac customer care advocate, can call the program’s toll-free hotline at 877-499-8606. Hours of operation for a live representative are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.