Over 154,000 essential CT private sector workers apply for COVID bonuses

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With just over a week left to apply for the state’s coronavirus pandemic bonus program for private sector essential workers, demand has far exceeded the resources that Governor Ned Lamont and the legislators have reserved for the program.

As of Thursday noon, more than 313,000 people had applied for nominations through the online website. Premium payment portaland more than 154,000 of them have applied, Comptroller Natalie Braswell reported Friday.

“There’s been incredible enthusiasm for this program,” said Braswell, whose office has vigorously promoted the program since its launch in early August, and who began a final promotional campaign on Friday. “These workers were on the front lines during the worst of the pandemic, making huge personal sacrifices on our behalf. I encourage all eligible workers to apply for the funds they have earned and deserve before the October 1 deadline.

Although the deadline, set by law, falls on a Saturday, the state’s online portal will be open all day to receive last-minute applications, according to the Braswell office.

Under heavy pressure from Connecticut’s AFL-CIO, labor unions and other labor rights advocates, Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislative majority created a bonus system for private sector workers who provided services. vital during the pandemic.

But while the program dangled grants of up to $1,000 for full-time workers and $500 for part-time workers, state officials only budgeted $30 million. By simple math, the $30 million program cannot offer more than 30,000 grants of $1,000 each.

To put the dollars to work, Lamont and lawmakers also stipulated that grants would be reduced, proportionately, to provide funding for all approved applications.

The 154,000 applications completed to date have yet to be reviewed, but that total is already five times the maximum number of potential $1,000 scholarships. The 313,000 applications requested are more than 10 times greater.

Union advocates – who warned last May that the program was severely underfunded – say if the $1,000 grants are cut to $200 or less, it will be an insult to those who risked their lives to maintain vital services in operation.

The Premium Pay program is open to private sector workers in categories “1A” or “1B” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Immunization Priority Lists. Some of the frontline workers in these categories include healthcare workers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store staff, teachers, and child care staff.

The “1C” category, a list that includes gas station and soup kitchen workers, was excluded.

Applicants can learn more about the Premium Pay program by calling the Monitor Information Line at 833-660-2503.

The Labor and Public Employees Legislative Committee, which originally proposed a bonus program for public and private sector workers, recommended a budget of $750 million.

Leaders of that panel, Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, called on the governor and legislature to fully fund the premium compensation program when the regular session of the General Assembly of 2023 will meet in early January. Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who is running for state comptroller, also pushed for officials to recapitalize the program, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they were open to discussing adding funds, even if it should be weighed against the overall fiscal health of the state government.

Lamont has not committed to whether he will support more funds for private worker bonuses.

“The administration will consider proposals introduced in the next legislative session and work with legislative leaders at that time to pass measures that are in the best interest of Connecticut families and businesses,” said Chris Collibee, gatekeeper. -speaker from the Governor’s Budget Office.

Lamont’s budget office reported this week that the state budget is on track to close the fiscal year next June 30 with a surplus of about $2.3 billion. This equates to about 10% of the General Fund and would represent the second largest surplus in the state’s history.

But Office of Policy and Management Secretary Jeffrey Beckham, Lamont’s budget director, also warned this week that it is very early in the fiscal year and the national economy remains uncertain.

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