VIC’s View: We don’t care how you did it in Michigan.
So here’s what not to do - use Covid money to give yourself a Bonus.
A Michigan county council did just that - now they are giving it back. Laurens County has $6 million of its $13 million of COVID-19 local relief money sitting in the bank. The council is figuring out what to do with it - here’s a “not-to” suggestion.
In Corunna, Michigan, officials gave themselves $65,000 in bonuses with part of the Covid relief money, and now they will return the money because of a public outcry, a lawsuit that alleges they did it in secret, and a prosecutor who says even though he worked through the pandemic, the way he reads state law, he can’t be given a bonus for working. These are the Shiawassee County commissioners, just for the record, and they planned to give 257 county employees money described as “hazard pay.” The local congressman, Dan Kildee, said the relief bill ($1.9 Trillion nationwide) does allow for bonuses but for essential workers only - those who “bear the greatest health risk because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.” Local and National reports says the commissioners met in closed session (July 15) to discuss bonuses for 257 county employees - an average of $2,148, but then later, a commissioner was surprised to see $3,500 in her bank account. She learned that the commission chairman, sheriff and others got $25,000 - some others got $10,000 (two on the commission, the undersheriff, the prosecutor); most other commissioners and employees got $5,000 each - other employees got between $2,500 and $1,000 each.
Another congressman in Michigan politicized the issue, saying “those Democrats” failed to put safeguards in the relief bill; then, a resident filed a lawsuit alleging the commission failed to follow the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Initially, one commissioner returned the money, two commissioners donated the money, one commissioner planned to keep the money, three commissioners did not immediately comment.
Finally, there was a consensus that all seven would return the money. The prosecutor said he would not accept the bonus.
The County Prosecutor, Scott Koerner, said in his opinion the payments to elected officials are illegal. A spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury Department said rules say money should prioritize low-income and essential workers. A statement from the commissioners said “this gesture has been misinterpreted.”
You know, I really doubt that it has. I think the interpretation was right on the money - those in positions of power saw money and grabbed it. They talked about it in closed session, so it should have been protected. How they decided that the Sheriff would get $25,000 and the records clerk would get $1,000 was not fully explained, but the citizen’s lawsuit alleges three commissioners decided how to split up the money when they, I guess, met over coffee.
The American Rescue Plan sent $350 Billion to states and communities, with rules and reporting attached.
Counties in South Carolina have their money.
But South Carolina Cities do not yet have their Covid relief money because, Democrats say, Gov. Henry McMaster has not applied for it -- SC democrats are wondering WHY but they haven’t gotten a response. Just for the record it’s like $4.2 Billion; in a statement the party said:
“For someone who has spent the majority of the pandemic refusing to exhibit any leadership and relying on our local governments to institute mask mandates, he surely is reversing course and actively limiting the power of local leaders,” said SCDP Chair Trav Robertson, Jr. “Thankfully Democrats in Washington are looking out for South Carolina’s municipalities. Why is Henry holding up the money? Is he really going to stall millions of dollars in crucial aid to score political points, just as he did with medicaid expansion? Henry is failing to deliver.”
This must be in some way in the same vein of Why haven’t landlords gotten rent-reimbursement money even though the Federal Government has it. The money is supposed to pay landlords who’ve lost out on rent because the Centers for Disease Control declared a national end to evictions during the Covid crisis, a measure that has been extended because so many people lost their jobs. The no-evictions measure has been challenged in court, but it never was overturned. The Biden Administration allowed it to expire.
As Covid lingers, our nation is getting as much an economics lesson, as a public health lesson.
(Vic MacDonald is editor of The Clinton Chronicle. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chronicle. MacDonald can be reached at 833-1900.)