Early COVID work pays off in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle

Hudson Valley governments have different opinions when it comes to distributing hazard pay for workers who showed up to serve the public at the start of the COVID pandemic.

In New Rochellethe proposed rewards would go to 408 frontline workers, with the city targeting the city’s lowest-paid essential workers and first responders for the top $3,000 bonuses.

Most City of Mount Vernon employees, meanwhile, received up to $5,000 in hazard pay while almost all Dutchess County employees received $1,000 for their work at the start of COVID, before vaccines slow the spread in 2021.

The hazard pay came from federal money sent to municipalities and counties through the US bailout, which a few governments chose to share with their employees, with discretion over how it is distributed.

More than a year after the $1.9 trillion COVID bill was passed, some city workers are now getting their piece of the COVID relief pie.

In New Rochelle, retirees who worked at the start of COVID as well as the estate of a New Rochelle captain who died from COVID, would also receive payment, City Manager Chuck Strome said.

COVID was first detected in New Rochelle in late February 2020. The plan is expected to be voted on by city council next week, with controls cut in July.

“Our employees are well paid at the top, so we thought it was the right thing to do to give the maximum to those who don’t earn as much – those who do maintenance in the parks, the workers sanitation and those of the police. patrol, who tend to be the lowest-paid new hires, Strome said.

Document: How much each Mount Vernon employee received in hazard pay

ARPA: How federal COVID relief funds will be spent in the Hudson Valley

Education: How Schools Are Spending US Bailout Funds

There is considerable discretion in how these one-time federal funds are spent.

Mount Vernon had the most generous hazard pay program in the area, with the largest checks of $5,000 issued to 375 city employees. Many of the city’s highest-paid municipal employees in the fire and police departments won top prizes, although some city hall employees and young recreation workers also received $5,000.

While city department heads were excluded from hazard pay, most city workers received checks, including nearly 200 Mount Vernon city workers who received checks ranging from $833 to $4,583 for working during the first year of COVID – from March 2020 to March 2021.

While $600,000 of the city’s $3 million hazard pay fund has yet to be spent, Mount Vernon firefighters are demanding payouts for retirees who worked during that time but have since taken their retirement. They were deemed ineligible by city policy, according to a March 31 memo obtained by Tax Watch.

Kevin Holt, president of the Association of Uniformed Firefighters, asked the administration of Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard to also send hazard pay checks to five retired workers.

“That money was supposed to be for those who were working during the heat of COVID when the whole world shut down until they came up with a vaccine,” Holt said. “The city has yet to address the issue of compensation for those who have retired but have worked during this period. This should be an easy fix.

The Mount Vernon city government is reviewing the firefighters’ request.

“Sound budgeting practices require a cash cushion preventing the full obligation of the full designated funds to allow for adjustments and the inclusion of other classes in the allocated amount, in the future, if necessary,” said City spokesman Timothy Allen.

In Dutchess Countythe government used $1.8 million from its U.S. bailout to pay $1,000 to 1,606 county employees who worked during the pandemic in 2020 and remain employed by the county.

That included nearly all county workers, including department heads, although county elected officials did not receive hazard pay, county spokeswoman Colleen Pillus said.

A police officer stands near a roadwork project in downtown New Rochelle on June 14, 2022. Some city workers in the area will receive hazard pay for working during the first year of COVID, with payouts possibly reaching $3,000 for first responders and essential workers in New Rochelle, and up to $5,000 for most City of Mount Vernon employees.

The approach to Mount Vernon

The bounty payment came at an opportune time for N’Quan Stephens, senior accountant in the Mount Vernon Clerk’s Office, who has struggled through the worst time of COVID in 2020.

Her daughter’s kindergarten class became remote, so her monthly childcare costs increased by $600 when her daughter had to stay home and log on to her computer. Then Stephans’ grandmother died of COVID in a nursing home. So Stephens, with his savings already depleted, put the funeral costs on his credit card.

Stephens doubted she would receive anything from the $3 million ‘wage bonus’ pot set aside for city workers as part of the city’s US federal bailout because she worked in an office of the town hall.

Then she was surprised to receive a check for $3,750.

“I was climbing out of a hole,” Stephens said. “And this check helped me out of this hole.”

At Mount Vernon, partial payments were made to employees who did not work full year, worked part-time or, like Stephens, had a hybrid schedule that included working from home.

Among the 375 Mount Vernon employees who received $5,000 were 134 Mount Vernon Police Department employees, including dispatchers and office workers, according to the city’s hazard pay registry.

There were 98 city fire department employees, including dispatchers and office workers who qualified for $5,000. So did 66 employees of the Mount Vernon Public Works Department, including workers from the DPW Commissioner’s Office, as well as sewerage and street cleaning workers.

Mount Vernon employees also received $5,000 in its parks and facilities department, youth council, Doles center, parking office, building department, recreation department, animal shelter, the assessor’s office, the mayor’s office, the developmental disability program and the office for aging. .

New Rochelle’s risk premium

New Rochelle withdrew $908,000 from its U.S. bailout funds for hazard pay.

It was allocated in a way that most benefited the lowest paid public workers on the city’s list of essential workers and first responders. New Rochelle would give its highest reward – $3,000 – to the lowest paid on its list of essential workers – those earning up to $100,000. Those earning between $100,000 and $150,000 would receive $2,000 while those earning over $150,000 would receive $1,000.

Among those earning more than $150,000 were 66 police and 54 fire department employees.

Only two city hall employees from his tax office were eligible for a $500 hazard pay, according to a plan being reviewed by city council, with approval as early as next week.

New Rochelle employees most fond of receiving $3,000 were those at the Department of Public Works, with 77 of 86 recipients receiving the highest award, compared to 40 of 161 police employees; 21 out of 145 firefighters; and 11 of 14 parks and recreation employees.

Only two city hall administrators received hazard pay, each receiving $500.

“We were the epicenter here,” Strome said, recalling those early days in March 2020. “It’s a token of thanks to the workers who had to come when we had no idea how it was. would grow.”

Follow Tax Watch columnist David McKay Wilson on Facebook or Twitter @davidmckay415. He has been writing about Hudson Valley public affairs since 1986. Check out his latest columns at lohud.com.