In Hampton Roads, who actually qualifies for government hazard pay?

Local Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In recent weeks, several local governments have begun issuing hazard paychecks to some of their workforce, but there has been frustration with the fact that it hasn’t been done equally.

When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) earlier this year, they set aside $150 billion for the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Virginia received about $3.1 billion from the fund and has distributed the money to localities based on population.

The money can only be used for certain purposes and governments “are responsible for making determinations as to what expenditures are necessary,” according to a guide from the U.S. Department of Treasury. In other words, there is one pot of money and city leadership must prioritize.

When it comes to hazard pay, Congress reserves it for “public safety, public health, health care, human services and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Out of the seven cities of Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Virginia Beach have already approved plans to give “public safety” workers one-time checks. Any other department given pay was a result of the city using other local funds to make up the difference.

However, in Portsmouth, deputies with the sheriff’s office say they are being unfairly left out.

“We are fed up with this,” said Sgt. Kimberly W. Jordan, who works in the court security division. “Although the City Of Portsmouth has always purposely not included us in any sort of appreciation for anything or any special funding due us, we still manage to be here for the public and each other.”

10 On Your Side has received other similar complaints about Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office employees not being given hazard pay by the city.

“The sheriff’s deputies don’t fall under the control of the city,” said Councilman Nathan Clark, a former Portsmouth sheriff’s deputy himself. “Police officers don’t get raises sometimes when the deputies do because the General Assembly sometimes will provide that money.”

However, Sheriff’s deputies in Virginia Beach and Norfolk are receiving between $1,000 and $2,000 in hazard pay.

“We included them in the funding because they are performing jobs that are just as high risk as other public safety employees,” said Lori Crouch, a spokesperson for the city of Norfolk. 

A spokesperson with the City of Hampton also confirmed sheriff deputies “whose duties met the definition” for hazard pay would receive funds.

Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore wrote to City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton to ask why his department was left out. Patton replied writing that much of what the sheriff deputies are doing doesn’t differ from their duties pre-pandemic. Meaning they don’t meet the guidelines for hazard pay.

“However, expenditures related to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, such as PPEs, masks, gloves, protective shields, qualify for the use of funds,” Patton wrote. “Please submit documentation for these expenses immediately and I will consider applying any eligible expenses to the CARES Funds.”

At the last council meeting, Patton detailed that out of the initial $8.2 million of CARES funding given to the city of Portsmouth, $1.4 million was “contingency.” She told the council it could possibly be used to update city hall elevators to make them “touchless.”

Neither Patton nor Mayor John Rowe immediately returned requests for comment on if the sheriff’s office would be included on the second round of $8.2 million they are expected to get from the state.

There is currently a legal battle ongoing between the city council and independently elected sheriff in Portsmouth over the future of the city jail.

City managers in both Chesapeake and Suffolk have announced plans to bring hazard pay proposals to their council in the near future.

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