News

County workers to get 'hero pay' for pandemic work

Supervisors approve $76M in bonuses from federal stimulus funds to be paid by December

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 test at a Santa Clara County mobile testing site in Mountain View on May 27, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funds to provide bonuses of up to $2,500 to county employees for their work during the pandemic.

The Tuesday vote earmarks about $76 million out of the county's first round of $187 million in stimulus funds to provide one-time payments to nearly all 22,000 county employees by Dec. 3.

The county is expected to receive its second round of $187 million in federal stimulus funds in May 2022.

The only county employees excluded from receiving bonuses that the county is calling "hero pay" are the five county supervisors and County Executive Jeff Smith. That means high up positions such as the sheriff, the district attorney and the county assessor -- who each made between $330,000 and $460,000 in total compensation during the 2019 fiscal year -- also will receive a $2,500 bonus.

It's a notion that made Supervisor Otto Lee seemingly uncomfortable and may explain his decision to abstain from the vote. Had he voted in favor, the hero pay would've passed unanimously by the board.

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"I have concerns about how this came about. I would not want to, as an elected official, vote for a $2,500 bonus for myself," Lee said. "I think, for so many reasons, that the amount that has been provided here seems, I know it's very generous, but in some ways, this is overly generous."

After Lee expressed reservations, Supervisor Cindy Chavez made an amendment to exclude the five county supervisors from getting bonus pay -- a move supported by all county supervisors.

Lee also asked that staff create a way for county employees to opt out of getting the hero pay for those who feel uncomfortable or not in need of receiving the $2,500.

Board president Mike Wasserman tried to extend the hero pay to Smith, because of his "Herculean" efforts during the pandemic, but Smith refused to accept it.

As it stands now, full-time employees will receive $2,500 and part-time county employees will receive a prorated amount based on full-time equivalent status and any additional hours worked.

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Independent providers of in-home supportive services used by the county to provide services for elderly or disabled residents will receive a $500 bonus from the county to augment the additional $500 they are getting from the state.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg noted that the $2,500 is double what other similarly populated counties are giving in hero pay.

Smith said the reason for the amount is because he felt it was in line with what supervisors wanted and joked that it was because the board is "twice as progressive."

"We felt strongly that everyone in the county employed actually participated vigorously to the greatest extent possible in providing a response to the pandemic," Smith said. "Therefore, we didn't feel administratively that we could take a group or a particular job or particular activity that was more deserving of a larger amount of money than any other."

Smith also noted that the stimulus funding stipulates that some be used for hero pay, so providing these bonuses is in line with how the federal government envisioned these dollars being used.

"We're just following through with the intention of the bill," Smith said.

The county also is still deciding how to provide bonuses for the roughly 3,000 "extra help workers" who did not have a regular schedule and instead intermittently supported county efforts. Extra help workers, often referred to as permanent intermittent workers, can be found in "pretty much all departments doing a wide variety of things," including nurses, clerks, secretaries or social workers, Smith said.

"We still have to work out a formula," the county executive continued. "We haven't been able to come up with something we'll agree upon."

Smith said the county will still need to deliberate with several unions to ensure everyone is on board with the hero pay before the money is distributed in December.

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County workers to get 'hero pay' for pandemic work

Supervisors approve $76M in bonuses from federal stimulus funds to be paid by December

by / Bay City News Service

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 2:43 am

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funds to provide bonuses of up to $2,500 to county employees for their work during the pandemic.

The Tuesday vote earmarks about $76 million out of the county's first round of $187 million in stimulus funds to provide one-time payments to nearly all 22,000 county employees by Dec. 3.

The county is expected to receive its second round of $187 million in federal stimulus funds in May 2022.

The only county employees excluded from receiving bonuses that the county is calling "hero pay" are the five county supervisors and County Executive Jeff Smith. That means high up positions such as the sheriff, the district attorney and the county assessor -- who each made between $330,000 and $460,000 in total compensation during the 2019 fiscal year -- also will receive a $2,500 bonus.

It's a notion that made Supervisor Otto Lee seemingly uncomfortable and may explain his decision to abstain from the vote. Had he voted in favor, the hero pay would've passed unanimously by the board.

"I have concerns about how this came about. I would not want to, as an elected official, vote for a $2,500 bonus for myself," Lee said. "I think, for so many reasons, that the amount that has been provided here seems, I know it's very generous, but in some ways, this is overly generous."

After Lee expressed reservations, Supervisor Cindy Chavez made an amendment to exclude the five county supervisors from getting bonus pay -- a move supported by all county supervisors.

Lee also asked that staff create a way for county employees to opt out of getting the hero pay for those who feel uncomfortable or not in need of receiving the $2,500.

Board president Mike Wasserman tried to extend the hero pay to Smith, because of his "Herculean" efforts during the pandemic, but Smith refused to accept it.

As it stands now, full-time employees will receive $2,500 and part-time county employees will receive a prorated amount based on full-time equivalent status and any additional hours worked.

Independent providers of in-home supportive services used by the county to provide services for elderly or disabled residents will receive a $500 bonus from the county to augment the additional $500 they are getting from the state.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg noted that the $2,500 is double what other similarly populated counties are giving in hero pay.

Smith said the reason for the amount is because he felt it was in line with what supervisors wanted and joked that it was because the board is "twice as progressive."

"We felt strongly that everyone in the county employed actually participated vigorously to the greatest extent possible in providing a response to the pandemic," Smith said. "Therefore, we didn't feel administratively that we could take a group or a particular job or particular activity that was more deserving of a larger amount of money than any other."

Smith also noted that the stimulus funding stipulates that some be used for hero pay, so providing these bonuses is in line with how the federal government envisioned these dollars being used.

"We're just following through with the intention of the bill," Smith said.

The county also is still deciding how to provide bonuses for the roughly 3,000 "extra help workers" who did not have a regular schedule and instead intermittently supported county efforts. Extra help workers, often referred to as permanent intermittent workers, can be found in "pretty much all departments doing a wide variety of things," including nurses, clerks, secretaries or social workers, Smith said.

"We still have to work out a formula," the county executive continued. "We haven't been able to come up with something we'll agree upon."

Smith said the county will still need to deliberate with several unions to ensure everyone is on board with the hero pay before the money is distributed in December.

Comments

Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 8:12 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 8:12 am

I would feel uncomfortable receiving this money, even if I really needed it. I would opt out or donate to the food bank. Going to work during a pandemic doesn't make you a "hero." It means you're gainfully employed, and you're doing what you were hired to do, even during a pandemic. A lot of us have "values." Self respect will get you through life, not participation trophies.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 6, 2021 at 8:30 am
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 8:30 am

I agree with Jennifer. There were so many people affected by job loss. Donating money to food banks and homeless shelters would be the best use of some of that money.


Just Sayin'
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 10:55 am
Just Sayin', another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 10:55 am

I agree w/Jennifer, too, but just not 'accepting' the payment is not the way to go. Take it and donate it yo a homeless shelter or food bank, or a friend who is unemployed. Leaving the use of the money up to someone else isn't going to help anyone. Also, why would anyone making over $100,000, not to mention $3-400,000 even qualify for such a stipend? It makes my heart cold.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:33 am
R. Cavendish, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:33 am

Concurring with the other posters...the higher salaried county employees should have been excluded from receiving such a stipend & the Supervisors (along with the County Executive) did the right thing in declining it.

And while $2,500.00 doesn't go very far these days, the cumulative amount could go a long ways towards alleviating various hardships endured by less fortunate county residents during the pandemic.

But being a natural cynic, I imagine that most of the county employees (including the higher paid ones) will accept the money no questions asked.

After all, one should not look a 'gift horse in the mouth' or so they say.


Julian Guiterrez
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:32 pm
Julian Guiterrez, another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:32 pm

During the 2020 pandemic restricted & stay at home mandates, grocery store workers, pharmacy employees, and gas station attendants were required to work to ensure that basic consumer needs were met.

Many of the county employees were able to work remotely from the safety and convenience of their own homes.

They were paid more than a measly $15.00 per hour and receive a bountiful benefits/retirement package.

They are not heroes by any sense of the word.


Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 6, 2021 at 2:22 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 2:22 pm

The commenters above laid bare how the system works. They are the real 'heros' for being brave enough to speak up and expose what happened. The Feds give away money, our money (taxpayer money), then the recipients of that money (governing bodies of various kinds and at various levels) are free to spend it as they loosely interpret how the money was intended to be spent...ergo, all those people working in government positions will be the first ones to the trough. Smith made a feeble attempt at describing the thought process that went into making the decision.

The commenters were spot on...the money should be used for the real needy in our communities. I hope some, actually many, of the recipients of this gift who know, or should feel and know, they don't really deserve it or need it, do the right thing...donate it to those agencies that are taking care of the homeless, hungry, and unemployed people in our local communities.

Smith took the easy way out, not wanting to risk offending anybody by divvying it up by the amount of time, risk, and effort involved. I'm sure the spectrum of 'worthy' to 'not worthy' is
broad. A simple solution to avoid that. Don't give it to the employed county workers...give it to the unemployed, homeless and hungry people in our communities.


M
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 6, 2021 at 3:13 pm
M, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 3:13 pm


I firmly agree with the comments above. Stimulus given to those who enjoyed a guaranteed stable paycheck, and whose union is highly influential in local elections, is a slap in the face to those displaced or most affected by the pandemic, many permanently. And, being someone who has had significant business with county during the pandemic, everything I needed to get done was completely shut down -- not operated from home, shut down -- for almost a year. To me this is French Laundry level tone deaf on the part of the Supervisors.


Old Steve
Registered user
St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 6, 2021 at 3:19 pm
Old Steve, St. Claire Gardens
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 3:19 pm

I'm not sure why folks in Palo Alto begrudge civil servants a decent living. Many of the folks who might have been lucky enough to work from home during pandemic, normally might have long commutes, since they can't afford to live here. Yes, some rents have recently gone down, but 25% of median income does not buy much housing around here. Why would the County want to create division in the ranks, not to mention fights with a number of unions, over who gets and who doesn't. If the big corporate grocery chains can't offer hazard pay, that should be shareholders, not taxpayers.


Julian Guiterrez
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:01 pm
Julian Guiterrez, another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Though they are Federal employees, the USPS mail clerks & carriers should also be eligible for a $25,000.00 stimulus given their efforts & energies towards processing & delivering the mail during this pandemic.

County social workers and other administrative employees who were telecommuting from home during the pandemic should also be excluded from the stimulus payments. Paper pushers are not bonafide coronavirus heroes either.

On the other hand, all hospital employees at Valley Med County Hospital should most certainly receive this stimulus payment for their continued sacrifices while risking their personal health & safety during the 2020 pandemic on a daily basis.


Old Steve
Registered user
St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:23 pm
Old Steve, St. Claire Gardens
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:23 pm

Mr. Guiterrez: I agree about letter carriers, although not subject of the article. What about other USPS employees? If all administrative classifications at the County were to be excluded, that would likely impact some Valley Med employees and other health care types who had to work on-site.

To add to my response to Mr. Johnson above, I believe another story covers investments the County is making in housing for the homeless. In general, I am not a fan of the affluent and or retired in our wealthiest communities taking shots at civil servants. If we want less government and fewer government services, that can certainly be arranged. If you don't think most civil servants earn their compensation, try a day shadowing somebody as a volunteer for a day.


Julian Guiterrez
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:34 pm
Julian Guiterrez, another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:34 pm

Of note: I entered one to many zeroes in my earlier post...meant to type in $2,500.00 rather than $25.000.00!

>> "If you don't think most civil servants earn their compensation, try a day shadowing somebody as a volunteer for a day."

^ I did once (at the former MV County Social Services Agency as part of an internship.

The case workers are amongst the laziest employees I have ever encountered.

They would often play telephone-tag by re-routing incoming calls to each other's voice mail resulting in long hold periods for the caller.

More time for coffee, chit chat and extended lunch hours.

Your county tax dollars at work.




Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:35 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:35 pm

I'm not sure how the discussion got derailed from focusing on the real issue and got diverted into the cost and affordability of housing. I think anyone who reads, and reads the news in all it's forms (print copy or online), or hears and sees it on local network TV, knows about the housing crisis. Of course it affects the employed that have to commute, but what about the unemployed and needy. Some of them haven't lived in sheltered housing, excluding cars, in a long time. Lucky them, they don't have a commute problem. Pick who you want to feel more sorry for. QED.


Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 6, 2021 at 5:44 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 5:44 pm

Why pick on us Palo Altans, Ole Steve? First of all I don't think your statement is accurate (no polls or surveys to prove your point), and I don't think we should be singled out because I don't think we would be alone in refuting what you said, if it were true.

Now, I just feel compelled to share this with all our fellow commenters...something they would never know or expect...Ole Steve and I are friends, long time friends, friends with different backgrounds and opinions on many things, but still friends. Let's keep the 1st Amendment with it's freedom of expression clause alive. That's why we can do this!


Annies biped
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 6, 2021 at 6:27 pm
Annies biped, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 6:27 pm

Bravo to our County Supervisors for recognizing the work the county civil servants have done (are doing) during this pandemic! The Senior Nutrition Program has stepped up and helped the county nutrition sites pivot from congregate dining to a take out experience. The program in Palo Alto, La Comida, has seen a huge growth in the need for meals and the county Senior Nutrition Program has helped enormously. How wonderful to be able to reward these employees with a bonus - well deserved and unexpected. Let the County Executive do his job and work out the details, perhaps even including salary thresholds. Throwing out the possibility of rewarding county employees earning over $300,000/year is simply specious. Thank you to the Supervisors for recognizing that so many civil servants have gone the extra mile under difficult circumstances.


MBoots
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 6, 2021 at 9:09 pm
MBoots, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2021 at 9:09 pm

During the early days of the pandemic, the county's animal shelters were closed. No adoptions, no spay/neuters at all, using Covid as an excuse. It was ridiculous, as veterinarians and some other shelters found ways to stay open with covid protection measures. These closures led, for example, to an explosion of homeless cats and kittens because no spay/ neuter programs were available. These county facilities managed to avoid a lot of their normal responsibilities and work by citing the pandemic...but they still collected their full salaries and benefits. Now, giving these employees "hero" bonuses is quite obscene. I am sure the same is true of other county departments. Disgusting. And yet another reason for people to turn anti-tax and anti-government.


Mallory Duncan
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2021 at 10:43 am
Mallory Duncan, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 10:43 am

COVID has also become an easy excuse for all of the delays in superior court proceedings.

The court clerks and examiners exploited the coronavirus as a reason for the backlog and let various key documents accumulate with minimal attention to timeliness.

These individuals are not heroes and should not be receiving any bonuses either.


Julian Guiterrez
Registered user
another community
on Oct 7, 2021 at 12:41 pm
Julian Guiterrez, another community
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Slow-moving and lazy county administrative 'paper-pushers' are not heroes in any sense of the word, regardless of the coronavirus.


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