Pa. awards $50M in hazard pay for workers hit by pandemic. Many more await their turn

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    The Wolf administration announced 639 grants to employers Monday that will give 41,500 workers a temporary $3 an hour pay bump from now until late-October.

    The pay raise could add up to a maximum of an additional $1,200 in a worker’s pocket. 

    All together, $50 million in CARES Act-funded grants were handed out. That’s just a sliver of the $900 million in requests the state received, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

    “The demand for this program indicates the need for additional funding to support these critical front-line workers, who selflessly helped their fellow Pennsylvanians through the toughest times of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement.

    About $38 million in grants will go to workers in health care and “social assistance” settings, including nursing homes, home health aides, and some child care workers.

    The rest went to food manufacturing, food retail, janitorial and transportation workers. The administration said it tried to consider the existing wage in industries as well as the workplace risk in handing out the grants. 

    Only employees making less than $20 an hour are eligible for the pay bump, and all grants were requested by employers, not employees.

    The largest single grant, of $6.4 million, went to the Training and Education Fund, which will provide the money to attendants paid for with Medicaid funding across the state.

    All told, $8.5 million went to two statewide home care agencies. The county to receive the most grants was Allegheny County, which received almost $4.3 million, followed by $4.1 million in grants to Philadelphia businesses.

    Funding for the pay came out of a deal between Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly to spend a portion of Pennsylvania’s $3.9 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funding earlier this summer.

    About $1 billion still remains unspent. Wolf said he was open to using some of the remaining funds for further hazard pay programs.

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    Wolf also reiterated his support for a new wave of stimulus spending, the $3 trillion HEROES Act, The majority-Democratic House of Representatives passed the bill in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not taken action.

    That bill includes $200 billion specifically earmarked for hazard pay. Negotiations between the House, Senate and President Donald Trump on a new round of spending have yet to result in an agreement.

    “Unfortunately, there were thousands of employees we were unable to grant hazard pay because of a limited amount of funds,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said in a statement. “We must now turn our efforts to expanding these efforts and ensuring our workers are being paid for their sacrifices to keep our essential services operational.”  

    Millions of Pennsylvanians lost their jobs amid the pandemic and related business shut downs. For those still working, the state’s minimum wage is at $7.25, matching the federal minimum.

    See a full list of awardees here.

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