Some States Using Federal Relief Funds To Give Frontline Workers Another “Stimulus” Check
Amid concerns about the rising rate of Covid-19 cases across the country, some frontline workers may be eligible for a direct payment from their state.
This isn’t the long-sought Federally-distributed fourth stimulus check. Rather, the funds are being distributed by some state and local governments from their portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to certain groups of frontline workers as a one-time bonus payment.
But eligible recipients might be forced to wait.
The $350 billion allotment state and local governments garnered as part of the ARPA hasn’t been sent throughout the country immediately. Some cities and states will receive all their funds at once, while others will receive money in two parts—the latter arriving next year.
And even when the Treasury doles out the money, some states have yet to determine how they’ll allocate funding from the ARPA package. In New Jersey, for instance, Governor Phil Murphy’s office hosted two virtual events for interest groups seeking funding for their causes related to the pandemic, such as shoring up the state’s infrastructure or offering premium pay to workers.
States have until the end of 2024 to actually spend the money.
Teachers, Other Essential Workers on Bonus Lists
Georgia, for one, opted to spend $230.5 million of its federal funding for schools to give one-time bonuses to public school employees. In March 2021, the state education board approved giving a $1,000 bonus to teachers, aides, bus drivers, and other staff members working in K-12 facilities. The funds, which have already been distributed to eligible staffers, came in part from ARPA funding for schools.
Similar bonuses are getting approved in other places, too. In neighboring Florida, legislators approved $1,000 one-time bonuses to public school teachers and principals. That money, slated to be distributed to qualifying staffers in August, comes from an education relief fund in the American Rescue Plan Act.
In California, one school district used $2.8 million of federal stimulus funds to give teachers a 3.5% bonus for the 2021-2022 school year. District officials told the Wall Street Journal they hoped the perk would help its Berkeley-area educators with rising inflation.
The bonuses don’t always come from funds approved for school reopenings and covering the costs of safe operation. Broader funds issued to states as part of the relief packages can be used with fewer restrictions, and some states are choosing to dole it out to frontline workers of their choosing, such as teachers and first responders.
How Previous Aid Rounds Helped Frontline Workers
In Oregon last year, about 70,000 people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic received $500 checks. The one-time payment targeted people who had unpaid unemployment claims, and was doled out on a first-come, first-served basis to people who were willing to stand in line to claim their money in person. Thirty-five million dollars allocated to the state via the CARES Act funded the program.
Two days after the state launched the program in August 2020, it had exhausted the funds.
About one-third of U.S. states have chosen to use federal relief funds to provide bonus pay to essential workers, according to analysis by the Associated Press.
Louisiana spent $38 million from the CARES Act in 2020 to pay frontline workers $250 each. Eligible workers, which ranged from health care and child care workers to grocery clerks and gas-station employees, had to earn less than $50,000 per year.
Other states, like Indiana, are using relief funds to provide one-time “hazard” payments for state workers like state troopers and corrections employees.
And still others, like Oklahoma and New Mexico, are dividing up their funding to create back-to-work incentives—one-time payments for people who take jobs as federal unemployment programs expire.
In Minnesota, some essential workers are slated to receive bonuses, thanks to a $250 million fund created from an ARPA allotment to the state. But workers won’t find out who qualifies until later this year.
To find out whether you may be eligible for a bonus payment, check your state or city’s Covid-19 resources online; if you work for state or local government, you may receive any applicable bonus automatically.