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

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While many workers deemed essential in their respective states already have pandemic hazard pay or hero pay, thousands are still waiting for the same financial pat-on-the-back

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Hartford, Conn. – When the US government allowed so-called hero pay for frontline workers as a possible use of pandemic relief money, it suggested occupations that could qualify, from farm workers and childcare staff to janitors and truck drivers .

State and local governments have struggled to determine who among the many workers coping with the raging coronavirus pandemic before vaccines are available should qualify: only government employees, or even private employees? Should it go to a small pool of essential workers like nurses or spread to others, including grocery store workers?

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“It’s a bad situation for us because your local government is trying to pick winners and losers, or achievers and non-achievers. And so by default, you’re not saying importance versus important,” Auburn, Maine. Republican Mayor Jason Levesque of the U.S., where officials have yet to decide who will receive hazard pay from the city’s US rescue plan fund.

A year and a half into the pandemic, such decisions have taken on political implications for some leaders as unions lobby for expanded eligibility, leaving workers feeling embarrassed.

“It looks like it’s about the money, but it’s a mark of appreciation,” said Ginny Ligi, a corrections officer who contracted COVID-19 last year in Connecticut, where unions are in talks with bonus checks remains to be cut. “It is very hard to put into words the real feeling of what it was like to walk in that place every day, day in and day out. It scared us. It really did.”

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

The rules also allow third-party employers to provide grantees with eligible workers, defined as anyone who has “regular personal interaction or regular physical handling of items that others are also controlled by” or an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The rules give state and local governments a priority to “provide premium pay retrospectively where possible, assuming that many essential workers have not yet received additional compensation for work done over the course of several months,” according to low-income earners. Giving priority to eligible workers.

As of July, nearly a third of U.S. states had used federal COVID-19 relief aid to reward workers deemed essential with bonuses, according to an Associated Press review, although those who did qualify and were widely How much was received

A list of risk and premium paying state allocations as of November 18, provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, shows that funds are generally set aside for government employees, such as state servicemen and correctional officers.

In Minnesota, lawmakers still have $250 million in aid for hero pay, but they are 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 are delaying the whole process and I think the fastest way is to get them to the legislature,” said Republican State Sen. A member, during a meeting last month.

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

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

Earlier this week, after it appeared that a political deadlock over another issue was looming, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told Minnesota Public Radio that she believed front-line worker pay But a compromise can be made, given that there is a “beautiful natural middle ground”. Duel between proposals.

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

As talks with union leaders continue, the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization has increased pressure on the Democratic government. Ned Lamont, who is up for re-election in 2022, to provide $1 per hour hazard pay to all public and private sector essential workers who worked during the pandemic before vaccinations were available.

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

Lamont’s spokesman Max Rees said the figures cited by organized labor are “simply not possible.”

Meanwhile, he said, the administration is negotiating with state employee unions, categorizing the work performed by state employees during the pandemic and determining whether they can move to other responsibilities that are more or less were risky, which may also affect whether they receive more or less money.

“We want to recognize those workers who kept going to work every day as they had no choice. And there are people who are working in state-run health care facilities who need to plow our roads during bad weather and work personally,” he said. “The next piece is that you have to be firm. Who were all those people? And there is a verification process for that.”

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

Rachel Torres, deputy for the Department of Political and Civil Rights at the United Food and Commercial Workers union, Local 770, said her union is urging cities to follow the lead of Oxnard and Calabasas, which this year cut grocery and drugstore workers. Voted to provide payment. As much as $1,000.

“It really shouldn’t be competition among the essential workforce. Money should be available for many workers,” Torres said.

David Dobbs and his fellow firefighters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are upset that their city has yet to provide them with a portion of the $110 million they received in the Federal Epidemic Fund. Democrat Mayor Joe Gamin said in a statement that he supports the concept of premium payments, but the matter is being reviewed to make sure any payments comply with federal regulations.

“We’ve demonstrated a commitment to this partnership. And I think we’re feeling a little bit betrayed by the city right now that they’re not working with us when they come across this unexpected event,” said Bridgeport Firefighters’ Association president. said Chairman Dobbs, who has given up wage increases in the past when the city’s budget was tight. “Imagine lending your friends a decent amount of money and then hitting the Powerball and not fixing things.”

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

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