CT essential workers can apply for pandemic bonuses worth up to $1,000

Health care workers, grocery store employees and other private sector employees who provided vital services in the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic can start applying for up to $1,000 in bonuses from the state .

On Friday, Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office opened the Premium Pay portal on its website. And while applicants can start filing now, an official launch will be announced next week.

But it won’t be clear until early October if applicants will receive up to $1,000. That’s because lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont have only allocated $30 million for the program, and union rights advocates predict that will be too little to adequately cover all skilled workers.

“Connecticut’s essential workers have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to keep our state safe and running smoothly,” Braswell said Friday. “This new Premium Pay program is another way we are giving back to you. I look forward to officially launching the program next week and 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 representatives from government, employers, advocacy groups and ordinary citizens will help us spread the word so that we can give every worker the help and relief they deserve.

To be eligible, an applicant must have worked between March 10, 2020 and May 7, 2022 in one of the occupations in category “1A” or “1B” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization priority lists.

Some of the frontline workers in these categories include healthcare workers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, transit workers, teachers and the child care staff.

Eligible candidates must earn less than $150,000 per year and cannot be employed by any federal, state, or municipal government entity.

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 of up to $200.

Part-time workers — working less than 30 hours a week — can apply for a $500 subsidy.

The application period will run until October 1 and the goal is to process applications within 60 days, according to the Braswell office.

On or around October 1, the comptroller must also determine whether grants will be reduced, on a proportional basis, if demand exceeds available funds.

This potential reduction, which was stipulated by the legislature, is of great concern to workers’ rights advocates who argue that the program is already far too frugal.

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, called $30 million “a drop in the bucket,” especially compared to the $500 million neighboring Massachusetts has set aside for frontline workers.

“We believe that anyone who took a risk during the pandemic should be compensated for the risk,” Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne told the CT Mirror earlier this summer. The $30 million approved “probably won’t be enough. We hope that 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 ends up providing an average grant of $500 — which would match the block grant Massachusetts provides for essential workers — that would allow Connecticut to provide about 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.

Massachusetts’ plan covers both public and private sector workers, but union rights advocates here say $30 million just for Connecticut’s private sector is far less generous.

Porter’s committee proposed a $750 million budget for a pandemic bounty program for both the public and private sectors. The $30 million approved just for the private sector stemmed from final state budget negotiations last summer between top legislative leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.

To put the dollars to work, the Legislature and Lamont also excluded a third category of essential workers, listed as “1C” by the Centers for Disease Control.

These include a wide range of jobs, but workers’ rights advocates have pointed to some in this category that were difficult to understand. Soup kitchens, food pantries and other community meal programs fall into this category, as do gas station workers.

Braswell said Friday that she hopes the bounty program can also be used to boost public awareness of a second aid program the state has launched for frontline workers.

The COVID-19 Essential Worker Relief Program has struggled to secure funding since its launch in January, although interest has increased over the past month.

By mid-week, the Braswell office had approved just under $560,000 in total relief distributed among 138 recipients.

And while that’s an increase from the $361,122 total approved for 102 recipients through early June, it’s still only 1.6% of the program’s $34 million budget.

This initiative to replace lost wages and cover medical costs for frontline workers – in the public and private sectors – who have caught COVID has stalled due to a low profile and orderly complicated application process. by the Legislature and Lamont.

Braswell, which has been tasked with overseeing the program, launched a vigorous outreach campaign this summer to boost participation.

“I’m glad to see that our outreach efforts are translating into an increase in applications,” she said. “My staff and I will continue to travel the state and talk to any group that gets us. Eligibility for the program, set by law, can seem daunting, but there is a team ready to help workers through the process.

The COVID-19 Assistance Program for Essential Workers online portal has been linked to the new Premium Pay initiative, to help potential recipients learn more about both efforts, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The agency has also set up an information hotline at 833-660-2503, and support in Spanish is available.

Comments are closed.