clearn.png
Saturday December 4th, 2021 6:00AM

Who's a hero? Some states, cities still debating hazard pay

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — When the U.S. government allowed so-called hero pay for frontline workers as a possible use of pandemic relief money, it suggested occupations that could be eligible from farm workers and childcare staff to janitors and truck drivers.

State and local governments have struggled to determine who among the many workers who braved the raging coronavirus pandemic before vaccines became available should qualify: Only government workers, or private employees, too? Should it go to a small pool of essential workers like nurses or be spread around to others, including grocery store workers?

“It’s a bad position for us to be in because you have your local government trying to pick winners and losers, if you would, or recipients and nonrecipients. And hence by default, you’re saying importance versus not important,” said Jason Levesque, the Republican mayor of Auburn, Maine, where officials have not yet decided who will receive hazard pay from the city’s American Rescue Plan funds.

A year and a half into the pandemic, such decisions have taken on political implications for some leaders as unions lobby for expanded eligibility, with workers who end up being left out feeling embittered.

“It sounds like it’s about the money, but this is a token of appreciation,” said Ginny Ligi, a correctional officer who contracted COVID-19 last year in Connecticut, where the bonus checks have yet to cut amid negotiations with unions. “It’s so hard to put into words the actual feeling of what it was like to walk into that place every day, day in, day out. It scarred us. It really did.”

Interim federal rules published six months ago allow state and local COVID-19 recovery funds to be spent on premium pay for essential workers of up to $13 per hour, in addition to their regular wages. The amount cannot exceed $25,000 per employee.

The rules also allow grants to be provided to third-party employers with eligible workers, who are defined as someone who has had “regular in-person interactions or regular physical handling of items that were also handled by others” or a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The rules encourage state and local governments to “prioritize providing retrospective premium pay where possible, recognizing that many essential workers have not yet received additional compensation for work conducted over the course of many months," while also prioritizing lower income eligible workers.

As of July, about a third of U.S. states had used federal COVID-19 relief aid to reward workers considered essential with bonuses, although who qualified and how much they received varied widely, according to an Associated Press review.

A list of hazard and premium pay state allocations as of Nov. 18, provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, shows funds have typically been set aside for government workers, such as state troopers and correctional officers.

In Minnesota, lawmakers still have $250 million in aid set aside for hero pay, but they've been been struggling with how to distribute it. A special committee was unable to come up with a compromise plan, instead sending two competing recommendations to the full legislature for consideration.

“I think every time we take another week, we’re just delaying the whole process and I think the fastest way is to get them over to the Legislature,” said Republican state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a member of the committee, during a meeting last month.

Minnesota Senate Republicans want to offer a tax-free bonus of $1,200 to about 200,000 workers who they say took on the greatest risk, such as nurses, long-term care workers, prison staff and first responders.

But House Democrats want to spread the money more widely, providing roughly $375 to about 670,000 essential workers, including low-wage food service and grocery store employees, security guards, janitors and others.

Earlier this week, after it appeared that a political impasse was easing over another issue, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told Minnesota Public Radio that she believed an agreement can be reached on front-line worker pay, noting there's a “pretty natural middle ground" between the dueling proposals.

Connecticut has yet to pay out any of the $20 million in federal pandemic money set aside by state lawmakers in June for essential state employees and members of the Connecticut National Guard.

As negotiations continue with union leaders, the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization has stepped up pressure on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who is up for reelection in 2022, to provide $1 an hour in hazard pay to all public and private sector essential workers who worked during the pandemic before vaccinations became available.

“The governor needs to reevaluate his priorities and show that these workers who put themselves and their lives at risk are a top priority. I think it’s really the least he can do for these workers,” said Ed Hawthorne, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “These workers showed up for Connecticut. It’s time to governor to show up for them.”

Max Reiss, Lamont's spokesperson, said the figures cited by organized labor are “just not feasible.”

In the meantime, he said, the administration is in negotiations with state employee unions, classifying the work state employees did during the pandemic and determining whether they may have shifted to other responsibilities that were more or less risky, which could also affect whether they receive more or less money.

“We want to recognize the workers who kept going into work every day because they had to and there was not a choice. And those range from people working in state-run health care facilities to people who needed to plow our roads during severe weather and work in-person jobs," he said. “The next piece is that you have to come up with the determination as to who all those people were. And there’s a verification process to that.”

In some states like California, cities are in the process of determining how to fairly distribute some of their federal funds to to help essential private sector workers who may not have received extra pay from their employers.

Rachel Torres, deputy of the political and civil rights department at United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, said her union is urging cities to follow the lead of Oxnard and Calabasas, which voted this year to provide grocery and drug store workers with payments of as much as $1,000.

“It really should not be a competition among essential workforces. There should be moneys available for many workers,” Torres said.

David Dobbs and his fellow firefighters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are upset their city has yet to provide them with a share of the $110 million it received in federal pandemic funds. Mayor Joe Gamin, a Democrat, said in a statement that he supports the concept of premium pay but that the matter is still being reviewed to make sure any payments comply with federal rules.

“We’ve demonstrated a commitment to this partnership. And I think we feel a little betrayed by the city right now, when when they’re not dealing with us, when they came into this windfall,” said Dobbs, president of the Bridgeport Firefighters Association, which gave up pay raises in the past when the city’s budget was tight. “Imagine loaning your friends a decent amount of money and then hitting the Powerball and not making things right.”

___

Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Health, AP Business
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Facade is rosy again: Can Bally's casino's future be, too?
A year after new owners took over Bally's casino in Atlantic City, a $100 million facelift is underway involving hotel rooms, the casino floor and more
8:03AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Who's a hero? Some states, cities still debating hazard pay
While many workers deemed essential in their respective states have already pandemic hazard pay or hero pay, there are thousands more are still waiting for the same financial pat-on-the-back
7:57AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Channel deaths fuel UK-France tensions over migrant boats
The deaths of at least 27 people in the English Channel is fueling tensions between the U.K. and France over how to stop migrants from crossing the world’s busiest waterway in small boats
7:47AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Polyp in Biden's colon was benign, potentially pre-cancerous
A doctor's report says the polyp removed from President Joe Biden’s colon last week was a benign, slow-growing but potentially pre-cancerous lesion that required no further action
5:14AM ( 2 hours ago )
Czech President Milos Zeman discharged from hospital
Czech President Milos Zeman has been discharged from the Czech capital’s military hospital after his condition improved
5:11AM ( 2 hours ago )
Haiti prime minister appoints new Cabinet amid turmoil
Prime Minister Ariel Henry has sworn in his new Cabinet more than four months after he assumed leadership of Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse
7:11PM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Biden names women of color to lead White House budget office
President Joe Biden is nominating Shalanda Young to head the Office of Management and Budget
10:02AM ( 22 hours ago )
Biden nominates Young as budget director, Coloretti deputy
President Joe Biden is nominating Shalanda Young to head the Office of Management and Budget
9:36AM ( 22 hours ago )
Biden nominates Shalanda Young as budget director
President Joe Biden is nominating Shalanda Young to head the Office of Management and Budget
9:35AM ( 22 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Chinese fashion photographer in Dior controversy apologizes
A renowned Chinese fashion photographer has apologized for her past work after online critics called it insulting to the Chinese people and fashion house Dior removed one of her photos from a show in Shanghai
5:17AM ( 2 hours ago )
Germany latest country to pass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19
Official figures show Germany has become the latest country to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began
4:42AM ( 3 hours ago )
Asian stocks mixed after Fed says ready to act on inflation
Asian stock markets are mixed after Federal Reserve officials indicated they were ready to raise interest rates sooner than expected if needed to cool inflation
12:25AM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Business
Facade is rosy again: Can Bally's casino's future be, too?
A year after new owners took over Bally's casino in Atlantic City, a $100 million facelift is underway involving hotel rooms, the casino floor and more
8:03AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Channel deaths fuel UK-France tensions over migrant boats
The deaths of at least 27 people in the English Channel is fueling tensions between the U.K. and France over how to stop migrants from crossing the world’s busiest waterway in small boats
7:47AM ( 21 minutes ago )
France calls for European aid after 27 migrant deaths at sea
France's president is urging European neighbors to do more to stop flows of illegal migration into France after 27 people died in a sinking in the English Channel
7:42AM ( 26 minutes ago )
EU regulator authorizes Pfizer's COVID vaccine for kids 5-11
The European Union drug regulator has authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on children from 5 to 11 years old
7:30AM ( 38 minutes ago )
Australia sending troops to Solomon Islands as unrest grows
Australia says it is sending police, troops and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help after anti-government demonstrators defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day in violent protests
7:27AM ( 41 minutes ago )