Healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and other private sector employees who provided vital services during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic can begin claiming a bonus of up to $ 1,000 from the state.
Controller Natalie Braswell’s office opened the Premium Pay portal on its website on Friday. And while applicants can start submitting now, a formal launch will be announced next week.
But it won’t be clear until early October whether applicants will receive up to $ 1,000. That’s because lawmakers and Governor Ned Lamont have only earmarked $ 30 million for the program, and labor advocates predict it will be too little to adequately cover all skilled workers.
“Connecticut’s essential workers went above and beyond during the pandemic to keep our state safe and functioning,” Braswell said on Friday. “This new Premium Pay program is another way for us to return the favor. I am looking forward to officially launching the program next week and I encourage all eligible workers to apply. For these funds to be truly meaningful, every essential worker needs to know they are available. I hope other government officials, employers, advocacy groups and ordinary citizens will help us spread the word so that we can provide every worker with the assistance and relief they deserve. ”
To be eligible, an applicant must have worked between March 10, 2020 and May 7, 2022 in one of the professions in the “1A” or “1B” categories of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination priority lists.
Some of the frontline workers in these categories include health care workers, food and agriculture workers, production workers, grocery store staff, public transport workers, teachers, and child care staff. .
Eligible applicants must earn less than $ 150,000 annually and cannot be hired by a federal, state, or municipal government agency.
Full-time workers earning less than $ 100,000 can apply for a $ 1,000 grant. Those earning more than $ 100,000 but less than $ 150,000 are eligible for grants on a sliding scale, starting at $ 200.
Part-timers, who work less than 30 hours per week, can apply for a $ 500 grant.
The application period will run until October 1, and the goal is to process requests within a 60-day window, according to the Braswell office.
Around 1 October, the auditor must also determine whether grants will be reduced, on a pro rata basis, if demand exceeds available funds.
That potential reduction, which was stipulated by the legislator, is of great concern to labor advocates who argue that the program is already too frugal.
Representative Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, called $ 30 million “a drop in the bucket,” especially when compared to the $ 500 million that neighboring Massachusetts has set aside for frontline workers.
“We believe anyone who took a risk during the pandemic should be compensated for the risk,” Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne told CT Mirror earlier this summer. The approved $ 30 million “probably won’t be enough. We hope the governor and the General Assembly will recognize this. ”
Up to 5% of the $ 30 million can be used for administrative costs, leaving at least $ 28.5 million for grants.
If Connecticut ended up awarding an average grant of $ 500 – which would match the fixed grant that Massachusetts is providing to essential workers – it would allow Connecticut to provide approximately 57,000 grants.
But the Bay State program has already sent payments to 480,000 people in March and another 330,000 in May, according to the Commonwealth Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
The Massachusetts plan covers both public and private sector workers, but labor advocates here claim that $ 30 million for Connecticut’s private sector alone is far less generous.
Porter’s committee has proposed a budget of $ 750 million for a pandemic bonus program aimed at both the public and private sectors. The $ 30 million approved for the private sector alone resulted from negotiations on the final state budget last summer between top legislative leaders and the administration of Governor Ned Lamont.
To stretch the money, the legislature and Lamont also excluded a third category of essential workers, referred to as “1C” by the Centers for Disease Control.
These include a wide range of jobs, but advocates of the work pointed to some in this category that were difficult to understand. This category includes soup kitchens, food pantries and other community catering programs, as do gas station workers.
Braswell said Friday he hopes the premium pay program could also be used to raise public awareness about a second assistance program the state has launched for frontline workers.
Essential Workers’ COVID-19 assistance program has struggled to get dollars out the door since it started in January, although interest has grown over the past month.
In the middle of the week, the Braswell office approved just under $ 560,000 in a total spread across 138 recipients.
And while that’s up from the $ 361,122 total approved for 102 recipients as of early June, it’s still just 1.6 percent of the $ 34 million program budget.
This initiative to replace lost wages and cover medical bills for frontline workers – both public and private – who contracted COVID has stalled due to a low profile and complicated legislator-ordered application process and from Lamont.
Braswell, charged with overseeing the program, launched a vigorous awareness campaign this summer to strengthen participation.
“I am pleased to see that our awareness efforts are leading to an increase in demand,” she said. “My staff and I will continue to travel the state and talk to any groups that have us. Program eligibility, as established by law, may seem daunting, but there is a team ready to help workers through the process. ”
The online portal for the COVID-19 Essential Workers assistance program has been linked to the new Premium Pay initiative, to help potential recipients learn about both efforts, according to the controller’s office.
The agency has also set up an information hotline at 833-660-2503 and Spanish language support is available.