After initially not planning to do so, the City of East Lansing will provide hazard pay to certain City employees using federal Covid relief money for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution on Tuesday, Jan. 11, that will allocate up to $675,000 of the $12.2 million the City received from the American Rescue Plan Act to award hazard pay to part-time and full-time employees.
This resolution was put to this vote after several moves pushed the City into action.
First, Council received a letter from the Coalition of City of East Lansing Unions (CCELU) calling for the Covid hazard pay.
Then, a variety of survey responses from people who the City Manager believes were city employees called out the original draft ARPA plans for the failure to include cash bonuses to essential workers for the risk they endured serving the City during a pandemic. (Providing premium pay for essential workers is one of the four eligible uses of funds specified for the program.)
Then, at the last City Council meeting of 2021, on Dec. 21, Council member George Brookover proposed that the City Manager and/or City Treasurer review ARPA and return to Council no later than Jan. 18 with a plan advising Council on the possibility of allocating ARPA funds for City employee hazard pay.
The resolution approved this week will result in the City paying bonuses to eligible employees who are on the books with the City as of Feb. 6, 2022. Full-time employees will be awarded a $2,000 bonus and part-time employees will be awarded a $1,000 bonus.
Per the resolution, no more than $675,000 is to be spent in paying employees hazard pay. How the use of these funds affects previous plans for spending the City of East Lansing’s $12.2 million in ARPA money remains unclear, as a new plan wasn’t presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
Before the vote, Council members wanted further explanation regarding who is and is not eligible to receive these bonuses.
As the floor opened for questions from Council, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg noted that contingent employees, who are not considered in the resolution because their employment is considered temporary/not permanent, are often the City workers who interact with the public most often, for example, at the library’s, police department’s, and Hannah Community Center’s front desks.
Gregg also reflected on employees who worked the bulk of the pandemic and only recently left their position, asking City Manager George Lahanas, “So, your reading of ARPA funds says that someone who is not currently providing services is not eligible?”
Lahanas’ answers to Gregg’s questions fell back on the resolution’s stated desire to be for retention purposes and for those employees that are currently providing services to the City.
The resolution gives the following reasons for City Council’s desire to award this hazard pay: attracting and retaining City employees, continuing to offer valuable services to residents, and recognizing the sacrifices made by City employees during the pandemic.
It is well known at this point that the City has lost a number of employees during the pandemic and that vacancies have opened faster than they can be filled. (The exact figures aren’t entirely clear, though ELi has asked the City for official numbers.)
“There will never be an absolute situation that will work well,” Lahanas told Council about the use of these bonuses. “That is why we are looking at this thing as prospective, as an award and bonus for employees that are here going forward. As a retention bonus and to award people who are here working, not for people who were here in the past.”
“The idea here is a retention bonus to provide continuing operations and to provide government services,” he said.
Council member Dana Watson proposed gifting a smaller amount to those who are no longer on the City’s payroll but who did do some work for the City during the pandemic.
“Some people stuck with us, and this is a way of saying thank you,” Watson said as she suggested the City giving a smaller group of previous employees something like a $200 gift card to a grocery store like Meijer.
Lahanas stated that these considerations will fall under a separate resolution in the future and may even come from the City’s General Fund instead of using ARPA funds.