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

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01.12.2021

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........

© Japan Today


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