House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, today said the legislature is still trying to work out a bill awarding pandemic pay to essential workers who worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, after the $750 million fiscal note on the bill would have put Connecticut’s budget over the spending cap.
State employee unions pushed hard for the extra pay, but Ritter said state employees would be excluded from the payments “at this point in time.”
“[State employees] will not be in the bill as they’re doing their own thing with the administration,” Ritter said. “Any bill that comes out will see a substantial reduction in who is eligible and a reduction in the payment and those details are still being worked out.”
Lawmakers last week approved Gov. Ned Lamont’s deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition awarding raises and bonuses to state workers.
Reporters questioned who would remain eligible for the payments, but Ritter couldn’t offer definite details at the time.
“At some point, you are going to have to choose some people over others,” Ritter said, noting income levels could play a role in determining eligibility. “The hard part sometimes, when you have to finalize it, is it’s easy to propose something, it’s hard to pass something.”
“You are going to have winners and losers and that’s a tough thing to swallow,” Ritter said.
The bill passed out of the Labor and Public Employees Committee would have awarded $2,000 to each full time “essential” worker who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic, and $1,000 to part-time employees. Workers would have to apply for the funds, which would be administered by the Comptroller’s Office.
However, those deemed essential during the COVID pandemic included a long list of jobs, ranging from front line workers in hospitals handling COVID patients, to supermarket employees, car dealerships and educators.
That long list of essential employees meant a lot of money that would eat up the remaining federal COVID relief funds and put Connecticut over its spending cap, so lawmakers are trying to negotiate a scaled-down version.
Testifying before the Labor Committee, Michael Barry, a retired juvenile probation officer and member of the Recovery for All Coalition, said the pay was necessary to give credit to frontline workers who kept the state going throughout the pandemic and now face high prices.
“All of these essential workers stuck together and made things work and they should be recognized,” Barry said. “I ask the committee to pass this bill to support those essential workers who kept society going during an international health crisis I hope we never see again.”