Maria Segarra, a nurse at Hartford Hospital, glances skyward during an event to celebrate National Nurses Week. 575 hospital workers attended the event on May 6, 2020 to recognize the work of nurses, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

Connecticut is offering financial relief to residents who were essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers have created two programs — the Premium Pay Program and the Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program — to distribute over $60 million in funds. Applications for both are now open.

The Premium Pay Program, which launched in August with $30 million in funds, provides certain bonuses to front line workers from the private sector only.

This program received significant attention after CT Mirror reported that applications had opened, crashing the website multiple times in its first week.

The Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program — also known as the COVID-19 Relief Fund — was launched in January with $34 million to help front line workers by reimbursing a portion of lost wages or incurred medical costs because of the coronavirus.

It also could reimburse the families of essential workers who died for the funeral/burial expenses they incurred. While it is open to certain categories of essential workers from both the public and private sectors, this program has awarded very little funding since its launch.

Here’s what you need to know about each of the programs.

What are CT’s two essential worker relief programs?

Premium Pay Program: A $30 million program that launched on Aug. 5 and provides bonuses of up to $1,000 to front line workers from the private sector. Illness or lost wages aren’t a condition.

COVID-19 Relief Fund: Covers lost wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses and burial costs tied to COVID-19 that incurred between dates in March 2020 and July 2021.

Essential workers can apply to recover a portion of the wages they lost, up to $1,446 (which State Comptroller Natalie Braswell said reflects the average weekly earnings in Connecticut).

Benefits can also cover medical or burial expenses for an essential worker, capped at $3,000 per applicant. Benefits are provided on a first-come-first-served basis, and there are no income eligibility requirements.

Who is eligible for essential worker relief funding?

Premium Pay Program: Applicants must have worked between March 10, 2020 and May 7, 2022 in one of the occupations from categories “1A” or “1B” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccination priority lists. Workers from category 1C are not eligible for Premium Pay Program bonus.

Applicants can receive up to $1,000, depending on their income level — anyone who made under $100,000 is eligible for the full $1,000, and those who made between $100,001 and $149,999 are eligible for less money on a sliding basis.

Part-timers — working less than 30 hours per week — can apply for a $500 grant.

COVID-19 Relief Fund: Open to people who lived in Connecticut and were employed as an essential worker in the state between March 10, 2020 and July 20, 2021.

Initially, only people who worked in the CDC’s 1A and 1B list of essential workers could apply for the money. But the program was eventually broadened to include the CDC’s 1C list of essential workers, which includes restaurant staff, gas station and utilities workers, and construction crews.

Qualifying applicants must have contracted COVID-19 between those dates and either lost wages due to the inability to work after a COVID-19 diagnosis, had out-of-pocket medical expenses due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or related illness, or had a relative or family member employed as an essential worker who died after contracting COVID-19 between those dates.

Lists of category 1A, 1B and 1C workplaces are available below.

How many people have applied for each program?

Premium Pay Program: Has been flooded with applications. As of Aug. 23, nearly 200,000 workers have requested applications and more than 72,000 already have completed them.

It’s not mathematically possible for the $30 million program to award more than 30,000 grants of $1,000 each.

The General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont stipulated, in that event, that grants would be proportionally reduced to accommodate all eligible applicants.

COVID-19 Relief Fund: Hardly anyone has applied. As of late August — more than seven months after the program launched and after lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont dramatically expanded the potential applicant pool — the state had awarded just $560,000 of the $34 million budget.

And, according to Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office, only one out of every 17 people who completed a preliminary registration process has received funding.

What is the deadline to apply for essential worker relief?

Premium Pay Program: Oct. 1. Braswell’s office said the goal is to process requests within a 60-day window.

COVID-19 Relief Fund: Dec. 31. The application deadline was extended from mid-July to the end of the year.

Applications for both programs are available here.

Gabby DeBenedictis contributed to this reporting.

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Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.