Gov. Ned Lamont said he will give $1,000 bonuses to child care workers. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday he would provide $1,000 “appreciation bonus payments” next month to thousands of child care workers to bolster an industry in crisis.

But, according to the Legislature’s top-ranking budget leaders, the $70 million lawmakers allocated was to give workers ongoing raises, not a one-time bump this fall.

“Child care staff work consistently to provide critically needed care to ensure that children are safe and their parents and guardians have the support necessary to go to work,” Lamont said. “They are an essential part of our economy and help make Connecticut the most family-friendly state in the country. We need to support this important industry that is vital to families, the workplace and society.”

The governor added that these bonuses — which are $1,000 for full-timers and $400 for part-timers — were created particularly to show gratitude for the job child care workers did during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Beth Bye, Lamont’s commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, said the bonuses also would help stabilize an industry in which many earn close to minimum wage, which currently is $14 per hour.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Legislature awarded state funding to a government-regulated industry to boost compensation for largely for private-sector employees. The state also has appropriated funds to boost pay at nursing homes and many types of community-based social service agencies.

Bye said child care services will be notified by email soon about the program. Program operators will have to apply for the funds, and those eligible will receive the money next month, which they then must distribute as bonuses to their workers.

“They’re doing really high-value work, and they’re really not compensated, and we need to hold onto those that we can,” she added.

The co-chairs of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, agree with Lamont and Bye on most things. 

The child care industry is in crisis, its workers make too little, and readily available care is crucial for the state’s economic future, the budget leaders said.

Where they disagree, though, is whether one-time bonuses are a more effective response than ongoing raises. And, more importantly, they also question whether bonuses are what the full House and Senate envisioned when they approved $70 million for “wage support” as part of the $24.2 billion state budget adopted last May.

Lawmakers wanted to boost weekly compensation so child care professionals “can maintain themselves, so we don’t end up losing these value slots,” Walker said. “It’s not a one-shot deal.”

“I don’t know what one-time payments do,” Osten said. “They don’t provide long-term change, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

House Republican Leader Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford said he believes the legislative intent behind the $70 million was clear, and it was not for the Democratic governor to provide one-time bonuses around Election Day.

“I think it’s a dangerous slippery slope that this governor continues to push,” Candelora said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski also saw election politics at work.

“While day-care workers deserve to be well compensated, Gov. Lamont’s timing is obvious,” he said.

Lamont faced some unpleasant headlines earlier this week involving pandemic-related bonuses.

State Comptroller Natalie Braswell announced Monday her office would review at least 248,000 applications from private-sector workers seeking pandemic bonuses ranging from $200 to $1,000. The program, which got $30 million from Lamont and the legislature in May, is badly underfunded, and grants are expected to be significantly reduced unless more resources are added. The governor hasn’t said yet whether he will do that.

And on Wednesday, the coalition representing more than 40,000 unionized state employees announced it would seek arbitration because it hadn’t reached a deal with the governor’s budget office on special pandemic pay for its members.

“Gov. Lamont is doing what the people of Connecticut elected him to do, govern,” said Jake Lewis, spokesman for his reelection campaign. “His fiscal management over the last four years is why we’ve been able to cut taxes statewide, pay down debt and put money in the pockets of hard-working child care workers, who are so key to creating an economy where businesses and families can grow and thrive.”

Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, didn’t weigh in on how the $70 million should be used to assist child care workers. But he agreed with all state officials that the industry is in crisis and that government should help to stabilize it.

Many child care workers now possess bachelor’s degrees, Gay said, and services routinely are losing those staffers to school systems, where they can secure teaching assistant jobs.

Connecticut currently has one licensed slot for infant and toddler care for every child younger than 3, Gay said, adding that this represents a shortage of roughly 45,000 program slots.

CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 applauded the investment in child care workers but also said more needs to be done. About 2,000 members of Local 2001 are employed through the CT Care 4 Kids program, a partnership between the state and various child care services.

“There’s no surprise that due to a lack of pay, affordable and accessible health care and no retirement security, we’ve seen nearly 30% of providers leave the industry for higher paying jobs over the last 3 years,” said union spokeswoman Drew Stoner. “We need Gov. Lamont to take additional bold action that respects the providers, assists the parents and uplifts the children that are desperate for affordable, accessible and quality child care.”

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

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.