Empty carts outside a grocery store.
Empty carts outside a grocery store. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie.com

The crush of 30,000 applications for a $30 million program to compensate Connecticut workers who couldn’t work from home at the beginning of the pandemic is expected to be fully functional by the end of the week. 

Up to $1,000 in pandemic pay is available for eligible, private-sector essential workers in Connecticut who were employed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the popularity of the program caused the system to crash. 

“We anticipate the official launch of the new Premium Pay program for essential workers to happen in the next several days,” Tyler Van Buren, a spokesman for state Comptroller Natalie Braswell, said Wednesday. “Due to the incredible interest during the unannounced soft launch of the program, our vendor has recommended expanding system capacity before launch to accommodate the large number of expected applicants.”

Applicants have until Oct. 1 to apply for the program and everyone who qualifies will receive equal treatment when the payments are calculated. Van Buren stressed that this is not a first-some, first-served program.

However, it also means the $1,000 payment may be reduced if the program receives a lot of interest. 

“I would encourage those interested in applying to wait until the official launch of the program to ensure the best possible experience with the website. Support representatives will be available to help workers through the application process, including offering paper forms and Spanish language assistance if necessary. This is going to be an impactful program that will provide meaningful assistance to our essential workers who did so much on our behalf during the pandemic. We are looking forward to kicking it off in the coming days,” Van Buren said.

Workers who earned less than $150,000 a year will be eligible.

“Connecticut’s essential workers have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to keep our state safe and running.” Braswell said in a statement. “This new Premium Pay Program is another way for us to return the favor.”

Funding for the initiative was included in the new state budget approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this year. Sometimes dubbed “hero pay,” the funds will be distributed to grocery store or medical workers who were on the job between March 10, 2020 and May 7, 2022.

The Premium Pay Program is one of two state initiatives created to help essential workers. A separate $34 million Connecticut Essential Worker COVID-19 Assistance Fund is also available to help those who lost wages and faced out-of-pocket medical expenses and burial costs due to COVID-19. Nearly $560,00 has been distributed so far, as state officials try to spread the word about the program.

Union officials in Connecticut have said more money is needed to compensate all of the essential workers who risked their lives during the pandemic. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, an voted last year to recommend roughly $218 million in unallocated federal pandemic funds be spent on pandemic pay.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition is currently negotiating with the state over how best to compensate state workers unable to work from home during the pandemic. 

To apply for the program visit the Premium Pay website