Who is the hero?Some states and cities are still arguing about hazard pay

Hartford, Connecticut (Associated Press)-When the U.S. government allowed the so-called hero wages of frontline workers as possible uses for pandemic relief funds, it raised the possibility of everything from farm workers and childcare workers to gatekeepers and truck drivers Qualified occupation.

State and local governments have been trying to determine who among the many workers who bravely faced the raging coronavirus pandemic before the vaccine should be eligible: only government employees or private employees? Should it be allocated to a small group of basic staff, such as nurses, or should it be distributed to others, including grocery store staff?

“This is a terrible situation for us, because your local government tries to pick winners and losers, if you want, or receivers and non-recipients. So, by default, you are talking about important and unimportant. ,” said Jason Leveske, the Republican Mayor of Auburn, Maine, where officials have not yet decided who will receive hazard pay from the city’s U.S. rescue program fund.

A year and a half after the pandemic, as the union lobbied to expand eligibility, such a decision had a political impact on some leaders, and eventually the excluded workers felt pain.

Ginny Ligi, a correctional officer who contracted COVID-19 in Connecticut last year, said: “It sounds like a question of money, but it’s a feeling of gratitude. During the negotiations with the union, the bonus there was The check hasn’t been cut yet.” “It’s hard to express in words the true feelings of walking into that place every day, day after day. It scarred us. It did.”

Interim federal rules issued six months ago allow state and local COVID-19 recovery funds to be used to pay basic workers an additional $13 per hour, as well as their normal wages. The amount per employee must not exceed US$25,000.

The rule also allows subsidies to third-party employers with qualified employees who are defined as “regular face-to-face interactions or regular physical handling of items that other people have also handled” or people who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The rule encourages state and local governments to “prioritize retroactive premiums when possible, and recognize that many basic workers have not yet received additional compensation for months of work”, while giving priority to low-income eligible workers.

As of July, approximately one-third of U.S. states use federal COVID-19 relief assistance to reward workers deemed essential, despite Who is eligible and the amount they receive varies greatly, According to the Associated Press’s comments.

The list of national appropriations for hazards and insurance premiums as of November 18 provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that funds are usually reserved for government workers, such as state police and correctional officers.

In Minnesota, lawmakers still have $250 million in aid funds to pay hero salaries, but they have been thinking hard about how to allocate it. A special committee cannot propose a compromise plan, but instead submits two competing proposals to the entire legislature for deliberation.

“I think that every time we spend another week, we are just postponing the whole process. I think the fastest way is to submit them to the legislature,” said committee member and Republican Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (Mary Kiffmeyer). Said at the meeting. Meeting last month.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate hope to provide a tax-free bonus of $1,200 to approximately 200,000 workers they believe are most at risk. These workers include nurses, long-term care workers, prison staff, and first responders.

But Democrats in the House of Representatives want to allocate funds more broadly to provide approximately $375 for approximately 670,000 basic workers, including low-wage food service and grocery store employees, security guards, janitors, etc.

Earlier this week, after the political deadlock appeared to have eased on another issue, the Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman (Melissa Hortman) Tell Minnesota Public Radio She believes that an agreement can be reached on the wages of front-line workers, noting that there is a “very natural middle ground” between duel proposals.

Connecticut has not paid any of the $20 million in federal pandemic funding allocated by state legislators in June for important 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 Work during the pandemic before the vaccine is 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 the least he can do for these workers,” Connecticut AFL- CIO President Ed Hawthorne said. “These workers showed up in Connecticut. Now is the time for the governor to show up for them.”

Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Lamont, said the figures cited by organized labor were “not feasible at all.”

At the same time, he said, the government is negotiating with the state employee union to classify the work done by state employees during the pandemic and determine whether they may have been transferred to other more or less risky duties, which may also be possible. Affect whether they get more or less money.

“We want to recognize those workers who insist on going to work every day, because they have to do it and have no choice. These people range from those who work in state-run medical institutions to those who need to plow the road and work in bad weather. “He said. “The next part is that you have to come up with determination as “who are all these people.” And there is a verification process. “

In some states, such as California, cities are determining how to distribute some federal funds fairly to help important private-sector workers who may not receive extra wages from employers.

Rachel Torres, deputy in the political and civil rights department of the local 770 United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said her union is urging cities to follow the example of Oxnard and Calabasas. The two cities voted this year to Grocery store and pharmacy workers provide compensation up to $1,000.

“This really shouldn’t be a competition between necessary labor. It should provide funding for many workers,” Torres said.

David Dobbs and his fellow firefighters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, are upset that their city has not yet provided them with a share of the $110 million received in the federal pandemic fund. Democratic Mayor Joe Gamin said in a statement that he supports the concept of premium payments, but is still reviewing the matter to ensure that any payments comply with federal regulations.

“We have proven our commitment to this partnership. I think we are a bit betrayed by this city now, when they don’t deal with us, when they get this windfall,” Bridgeport Fire Dobbs, president of the Association of Staff Members, said the association gave up salary increases in the past when the city’s budget was tight. “Imagine lending your friend a considerable amount of money, then playing powerball, but nothing is done.”


Associated Press writer Steve Kanowski from Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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