Controversial ‘hero pay’ to be distributed next month
In early February, more than 155,000 qualified frontline workers in Connecticut who staffed vital services in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic will begin receiving “hero pay” bonuses.
The one-time payouts range from a maximum of $1,000 for those who earn less than $50,000 a year, to as low as $100 for workers with higher salaries.
State Comptroller Sean Scanlon’s office confirmed on Jan. 9 that the bonuses will be distributed next month in batches, and that the process is being handled by the Public Consulting Group (PCG).
PCG sent email notices to applicants regarding their status in late 2022, and anyone who did not receive notices or have questions can call them at 833-660-2503, according to Scanlon’s office.
“We plan to make more announcements regarding the exact date, numbers and schedule in the coming weeks,” said the state comptroller’s office.
“We can never fully repay essential workers for the unimaginable sacrifices they made throughout an unprecedented pandemic, and these payments, which will be arriving in the coming weeks, are just one way we can show our immense appreciation for them,” said Scanlon.
Within weeks of Premium Pay’s launch, it became clear to state officials that the $30 million allocated to the program was insufficient as applications poured in.
On Nov. 23, during his first order of business after re-election, Gov. Ned Lamont asked the legislature to increase funding for the Premium Pay Program from $30 million to $90 million.
During a special session in late December, lawmakers came to an agreement with the governor and settled on a $105 million appropriation and a new tier system to ensure that the largest grants go to the people who need it the most – those making less than $50,000.
“A number of us had conversations about how ridiculous the low level of funding was for the program, but we had to take what we could get. We had to cooperate with the governor,” said State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64).
“We all knew that the program was woefully underfunded, and we advocated for as much as we could during the special session,” she said.
“These people are all heroes, they all sacrificed and risked their lives on the front lines.”
The Premium Pay Program, also called “hero pay,” was created to reward essential private sector workers who remained on the job during the start of the 2020 global pandemic.
That group was among the first to qualify for COVID-19 vaccines, and including healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, grocery store clerks as well as individuals supporting the manufacture of essential goods, those with disabilities, public safety, food distribution and other vital services.
Under the Premium Pay model unveiled last summer, the state advertised $1,000 bonuses for qualifying full-time workers making an annual salary of less than $100,000, bonuses ranging from $800 to $200 for workers making between $100,000 and $150,000, and $500 bonuses for part-time workers.
Though well intended, the underfunded program fell short of many people’s expectations, said Horn.
“It was not realistic, and we shouldn’t be doing that,” Horn said during a brief lunch break between sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly last week.
Horn explained that under the updated plan, only people who make less than $50,000 will receive the maximum $1,000 and those with higher incomes will receive gradually smaller amounts.
Revised tier system
According to the state comptroller, about 66,000 workers, or about 45% of the 155,000 who qualified under the program, will receive the $1,000 bonus.
Under the revised tier bonus system, workers making $50,000 to $60,000 will receive $800; those making $60,000 to $70,000 will receive $750 and workers making $70,000 to $80,000 will receive $500. Those in the $80,000 to $90,000 income bracket are eligible for a $250 bonus, and workers earning $90,000 to $100,00 will receive $200. Those who earn between $100,000 to $150,000 qualify for a $100 bonus.
Qualified part-time workers will receive $200 instead of $500 as originally advertised.
And there was yet another wrinkle.
Municipal workers, who were included early on in the labor committee’s larger Premium Pay proposal, do not qualify under the updated program, even though that group included teachers and first responders.
State Sen. Stephen Harding (R-30), noted that while federal relief funds were made available to municipalities, most towns have not used the monies for pandemic pay.
“Obviously, folks on the front lines put their lives on the line every single day to provide the services we needed to survive,” particularly rescue personnel who were often first on the scene, said Harding. “They deserve to be compensated for what they did for us.”
That these first responders were excluded from the “hero pay” program, and that many others deemed essential will only be rewarded with a few hundred dollars, said Harding, “defies all logic.”
In addition, a third category of workers listed as “1C” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which included food pantries, soup kitchens and gasoline station workers, was also excluded from eligibility to stretch the funding.
Gov. Ned Lamont suggested during his 2022 state of the state address that employers could also do their part and share responsibility of providing hazard pay bonuses to their employees.
Responding to the governor’s comment, the head of the state’s largest business coalition said in an interview Jan. 10 that private-sector employers have sacrificed enough.
“Connecticut employers took care of their employees during the pandemic through salary increases, supplemental pay, bonuses, expanded benefits, training to upskill, tuition reimbursements, childcare, and developing even safer workplaces, as shown by the continued decline in workers’ compensation premium rates,” said Chris DiPentima, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA).