Shiawassee County, Michigan, Republicans Help Themselves To $65K In COVID-19 ‘Hazard Pay’
Congress passed President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan without a single Republican vote, but that didn't stop Republicans from shamelessly claiming credit for all the good the bill would achieve. Now, some Michigan Republicans are directly profiting from the bill's largesse.
Members of the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners, who are all Republicans, agreed to share federal COVID-19 relief funds with their employees last week, but they divided their bounty trickle-down style: According to records obtained by Michigan Live-The Flint Journal, “top-level administrators" each received $25,000, department heads took home $12,500, middle management officials (who are likely superfluous) received $5,000, and the chief deputies, Health Department employees, and attorneys (those guys always have their hands out ... sorry, honey) got $2,500.
But what about the front line workers, the people directly exposed to the coronavirus when they cleaned buildings and provided vaccines to residents? The employees identified as “cleaning staff" received $2,000 and the rest got $1,000.
Yeah, that's fucked up.
"It's a sad day ... I feel badly," said Commissioner Marlene Webster, a Republican who represents a portion of the city of Owosso. "It's a blow to county workers' morale at a time when it's difficult to keep good workers ... I think (it shows) a serious lack of acknowledgment of what people did (during the pandemic)."
Marlene Webster voted with the rest of the commissioners to use federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to provide hazard pay for county employees. She claims she didn't learn the commissioners were included in the payments until she saw a deposit for $5,000 in her bank account Monday and cried, “Yippee! Yippee!" We don't know if she actually said, “Yippee! Yippee!" but that's the standard reaction to discovering an extra five grand in your bank account.
She soon discovered that Chairman Jeremy R. Root was paid $25,000, Commissioners John B. Plowman and Brandon Marks received $10,000, and the remaining four commissioners were each given $5,000. Somehow the closed session vote didn't include a breakdown of who would receive payments and how much, so the commissioners were able to blindly vote for their own ca-ching. Webster assures us she's just “mortified."
"I'm mortified. I never would have voted to give myself more than the average (employee) — if anything," Webster said Tuesday, July 20.
Webster's somewhat hastily added “if anything" gets to the larger point: The commissioners shouldn't have given themselves a dime of hazard pay, as there was nothing hazardous about their duties. They weren't breathing in coronavirus to keep buildings clean for assholes who'd later stiff them.
Commissioners earn $10,000 annually plus stipends for meeting attendance, but it's not their primary job. Also, according to the guidelines, COVID-19 relief funds can "provide additional pay of up to $13 an hour for employees with a maximum of $25,000 per person." Only the sketchiest math could rationalize what the commissioners awarded themselves.
Commissioner Cindy L. Garber received a $5,000 payment and said Tuesday, presumably while gently caressing her stack of cash, that she ain't giving back shit. She claims her five large is nothing compared to the beaucoup bucks hourly employees pulled down during the pandemic when they were laid off one day a week and collected unemployment. Even if we accept her premise, this wasn't additional money. The unemployment just kept them afloat when they couldn't work through no fault of their own.
Garber says all her hard work for the county during the pandemic justifies her "Wheel of COVID Misfortune" prize. She went to bat for Chairman Root, claiming that he "bears the burden of all emergency orders." Heavy is the head that contemplates how to spend an undeserved $25,000.
"That is no small responsibility," said Garber, who accused Webster of "crying like a teenage girl" about the distribution.
"I am going to follow (President Biden's) advice and spend the money. That's what it's for ... stimulate the economy," she said.
Yeah, so Trump-supporting Garber's suddenly a Democrat now.
Webster plans to return her ill-gotten gains because she's not a complete asshole. Everyone else sucks.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."