Pinellas County is gearing up to incentivize vaccination against COVID-19 for all county employees.
During a Thursday meeting, County administrator Barry Burton asked commissioners to consider spending up to $4 million for vaccine incentives using funds from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
If commissioners approve the incentives, employees who get vaccinated against COVID-19 — as well as those who have already taken the shot — will receive $750 from the county by the end of 2021.
“I’ve talked to our constitutional officers, I’ve talked to the sheriff, and it’s our last best effort to increase our vaccination rates,” Burton told the commissioners Thursday. “I would ask for your concurrence in developing and implementing a program.”
Similar efforts have already been adopted in Hillsborough and Pasco. Hillsborough employees will receive $500 and two extra days off if they submit proof of vaccination. Pasco County is offering fully vaccinated employees $500 using the same American Rescue Plan dollars.
“We’re not using this as a mandate,” said Burton, who added the incentives are necessitated, in part, by staffing shortages in county departments due to the virus. “This would be an encouragement if [employees are] on the fence.”
In a show of hands on Thursday, a majority of county commissioners expressed support for the program.
Commissioner Janet Long said she supported the incentive for county employees and hoped the action would prompt other entities to follow suit.
“I hope that our actions will encourage other governmental entities who are receiving this extra one time money to consider doing the same thing, especially the school boards,” Long said.
Only Commissioner Kathleen Peters said she had doubts.
“Everybody else is good on their decision, I’m not sure that I’m completely there,” Peters said. “I get the wellness point, it’s a serious disease no question... I’m just not sure that this is what we need to be doing at this point.”
Official votes can’t take place during work sessions, but county officials approved moving forward with the development of the program, which will be voted on during a future commission meeting.
Pinellas County was allocated $189 million through the American Rescue Plan Act. The county has until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend the money or send the remaining balance back to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
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