From right, Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Matt Ritter and Comptroller-elect Sean Scanlon in May. The CT legislature passed a measure extending premium pay bonuses for essential workers. CTMIRROR.ORG

The state will begin issuing pandemic bonus payments starting Feb. 1 to more than 150,000 essential workers in the private sector, state Comptroller Sean Scanlon announced Tuesday.

Roughly 120,000 of those payments will be deposited directly into workers’ bank accounts. And about 35,000 workers — whose electronic account information the state doesn’t have on file — will be mailed paper checks in five to six weeks.

“During times of difficult uncertainty, Connecticut’s front-line workers stepped up and kept our grocery stores open, our hospitals operational, our communities safe and so much more,” Scanlon said. “They were essential to getting us through the pandemic, and this payment is just one small way we can thank them. By providing some relief, we can show how grateful we are to our heroes.”

Workers who earn less than $50,000 per year working full-time in grocery stores, nursing homes and other essential positions will receive $1,000 each — provided they were among those who applied for the relief last summer and were approved by the comptroller’s office.

That involves roughly 65,000 of the approved applicants, or 45%.

The rest of the bonus schedule for full-time workers includes:

  • $800 for those earning between $50,000 and $60,000;
  • $750 for those earning between $60,000 and $70,000;
  • $500 for those earning between $70,000 and $80,000;
  • $250 for those earning between $80,000 and $90,000;
  • $200 for those earning between $90,000 and $100,000.
  • Part-timers will receive $200.

The Premium Pay program launched by the legislature and Gov. Ned Lamont last spring was mired in controversy from the start.

The legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee had envisioned a huge program that would share $750 million, providing bonuses up to $2,000 per person — to essential workers in the public and private sector.

But the full legislature and Lamont backed a $30 million plan, limited to the private sector — but still not to all essential workers, according to one standard.

They specifically limited it to workers from categories “1A” or “1B” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccination priority lists. They include health care personnel, food and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store staff, teachers and child care personnel.

But Category “1C,” a list that includes workers at gasoline stations and soup kitchens, was excluded.

The $30 million program originally promised $1,000 grants to essential workers in the private sector who made up to $100,000 annually during the worst of the pandemic — and bonuses ranging from $200 to $800 for workers who earned between $100,000 and $150,000.

Labor advocates immediately warned the state would run short of funds, and by early fall, it was clear they were right. The comptroller’s office estimated last fall it would take $142 million to fully fund all advertised bonuses.

Legislators voted in special session in late November to boost the program budget to $105 million and also to scale back payments across several income levels.

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.