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Pinellas finalizes funding for employee vaccine incentive program

The program was announced Sept. 17, but the commission approved the use of American Rescue Plan funds during a Tuesday vote.
The Pinellas County commission voted to approve funding for a vaccine incentive program for county employees during a meeting on Oct. 26.
The Pinellas County commission voted to approve funding for a vaccine incentive program for county employees during a meeting on Oct. 26. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 27
Updated Oct. 27

During a board meeting on Tuesday, Pinellas County commissioners approved funding for a program incentivizing county employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of allocating up to $4 million of American Rescue Plan monies to pay $750 to each employee who gets fully vaccinated.

The American Rescue Plan Act is the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. Pinellas County received $189 million in funds.

Although the funding is newly approved, the vaccine incentive program has been in place since Sept. 17.

During a work session last month, county administrator Barry Burton recommended the commission agree to implement the incentive program, following the lead of neighboring counties like Hillsborough and Pasco, where similar programs had already been adopted.

An official vote to allocate funds couldn’t be taken during the work session, but commissioners concurred to approve the program. A memo went out the next day to notify employees of the opportunity.

Before the final vote on funding this week, Burton touted the program as a success.

“It is having an impact. We are seeing higher levels in employees getting vaccinated,” Burton said.

Although official numbers have yet to be released, Burton said the number of fully vaccinated county employees increased by more than 5 percent after the incentive was announced last month.

Approximately 62 percent of all county employees — including those at the Sheriff’s Office — had been vaccinated as of Oct. 27, according to county officials.

“I think it was well worth the money,” Burton said.

Commission chair Dave Eggers disagreed.

“Most of the employees that are getting reimbursed have already had the vaccine,” Eggers said.

Eggers said that without further discussion of how to best use the American Rescue Act dollars, he was uncomfortable approving the funds for the vaccine incentive. He and Commissioner Kathleen Peters cast the two dissenting votes. Still, the motion carried.

County employees now have until Nov. 8 to submit proof of vaccination for reimbursement.

How the county should spend the remaining $185 million in American Rescue Plan funds will be discussed and determined in coming weeks.

“We’re a couple weeks away from presenting some concepts to you and getting your feedback on where to take the program,” Burton told commissioners on Tuesday.

Pinellas County officials have until Dec. 31, 2026, to spend the money or send the remaining balance back to the Department of the Treasury.