State Comptroller Sean Scanlon Thomas Breen photo

Connecticut’s pandemic bonus program for essential, private sector workers is running out of cash, but could be refueled as soon as Thursday.

State Comptroller Sean Scanlon is seeking permission to transfer $4 million from his office’s salary account to the $105 million Premium Pay Program to ensure more than 5,100 workers still awaiting bonuses as large as $1,000 get the funds they were promised this year.

“I didn’t want anyone waiting for three more months to get this check,” Scanlon told the CT Mirror.

The Finance Advisory Committee, a nine-member panel that includes legislators, Gov. Ned Lamont, Scanlon and other members of the executive branch, is empowered to authorize limited transfers of funds from one line item to another. It’s scheduled to consider Scanlon’s request for funds for Premium Pay when it meets at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the Legislative Office Building.

Premium Pay, which has been beset by troubles since it first was approved last May by the General Assembly and Lamont, has sent payments to nearly 153,000 grocery store employees, health and child care personnel, transportation and manufacturing staff and others workers in essential categories since early February.

About 60% of the outstanding payments involve applicants who qualified but initially forgot to sign their applications. The comptroller’s office made two outreach efforts — one in December and one in March — to give otherwise qualified workers extra opportunities to secure their bonuses.

Most of the rest involved applicants who originally were rejected for other reasons, but were later approved after filing appeals for reconsideration, Scanlon said.

The comptroller added that his office likely cannot spare $4 million from its salary account, meaning it would overspend its approved level by that much and then ask legislators to authorize supplemental funding to balance the books before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

There are more than enough funds to cover this $4 million expense, according to the latest surplus projections from Lamont’s budget office. In its last monthly report, issued March 20, the administration estimated state government would close the fiscal year about $3.3 billion in the black, which would be the second-largest surplus in state history.

The state originally dangled $1,000 bonuses for many essential worker classes in the private sector, provided those workers earned less than $100,000 per year.

Those earning between $100,000 and $150,000 were offered bonuses ranging from $800 to $200.

But Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority only budgeted $30 million for the program, despite warnings from labor leaders that hundreds of thousands of workers likely would apply.

After more than 155,000 applicants were approved for Premium Pay, Lamont and lawmakers bumped the program budget up to $105 million during a late November special session — while also reducing benefits for many.

Based on the revised budget, only private sector front-line workers who earned less than $50,000 per year received a $1,000 bonus. That amounted to 45% or 66,000 of the approved applicants.

Those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 got bonuses ranging from $800 to $200. And those between $100,000 and $150,000 got $100.

This has sparked calls from labor advocates and from minority Republican legislators to put more resources into Premium Pay.

But Scanlon said that while he expects this $4 million transfer to be approved, this is likely to be the final tranche of funding authorized for the Premium Pay Program.

After bonus levels were scaled back from essential workers last fall, both Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders said they didn’t anticipate revisiting compensation another time. The governor has said private sector employers need to do more to recognize their own workers.

“Once this is done,” Scanlon added, referring to Thursday’s request for funding, “as far as my office considers it, this program is over.”

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.