Comptroller-elect Sean Scanlon called Wednesday on the state legislature to dedicate more funding to a popular Premium Pay program aimed at compensating front line workers who served throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a mid-day press conference at Hartford Hospital, Scanlon told reporters that the $30 million allocated in the state budget to provide bonuses for essential workers had proved inadequate to compensate the more than 134,000 employees who had been determined to be eligible for the benefits.
What state policymakers had envisioned as a $1,000 bonus payment for most eligible workers, will be closer to $233 per worker if more funding isn’t approved. As it stands now, the pro-rated benefits will range from $232.67 for workers who make less than $100,000 a year to $46.53 for workers who made between $130,000 and $149,999 a year, according to Scanlon.
It will cost more than $122 million — up from $30 million — to fully fund the program, he said.
“We have no way of truly thanking the people that served in this hospital, that served as our police officers, our firefighters, our EMTs, our daycare workers, but this is a start and this is the least that we can do to thank them for all that they did for us,” Scanlon said.
The Premium Pay program was only available for private sector workers, meaning municipal employees like police and firefighters would not have been eligible for the benefits.
Lawmakers are likely to convene in a special session later this month to address the looming expiration of a suspension of the state gas tax. Scanlon, who is a state representative until he’s sworn into office as comptroller in January, called on legislative leaders and the governor to include a boost to the Premium Pay program during that session.
In a short statement Wednesday, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he supported the idea.
“We fully anticipate Hero Pay to be part of the upcoming special session,” Ritter said. “It’s simply a matter of going over the details with the Appropriations Committee, the Senate and the Governor.”
However, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds Jr., issued a noncommittal statement saying the governor and legislative leaders would review the proposal.
“The Governor stated he will be having conversations with legislative leaders this week about a potential scope of a potential special session,” Mounds said. “The pandemic pay program will be a topic of discussion, we understand the comptroller-elect has released a proposal and that will be under discussion as well.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Scanlon’s proposal was ill-conceived and an attempt to put more money into a misguided program.
“Two years after the virus, to take more money and just randomly throw it at people is a reckless disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Candelora said. “When people today are struggling to pay their electric bills and heat their homes, I think it’s outrageous to think we would take $100 million of tax money and throw it into a program for people who don’t need the money.”
The push for more pandemic pay funding comes as the Lamont administration enters arbitration with the coalition of unions representing state employees over pandemic hero pay for state workers.
In a statement, Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne praised Scanlon for pushing to make sure essential workers received the promised pandemic pay.
“At the bare minimum, the Governor and legislature need to keep their promise to essential workers and fully fund the pandemic pay program,” Hawthorne said. “We knew from the beginning that the allocated funding was woefully inadequate. Now that the applications far outpace the available funding, they need to do the right thing and fund the program appropriately.”