Are $1,000 payments to Frederick County and Frederick city employees to encourage coronavirus vaccinations a good idea?

As a former public employee, I generally favor anything that pays public employees more. I wrote a column earlier this year praising the stellar job our public employees at every level have done during the coronavirus crisis. And I’m a liberal Democrat, so I generally favor robust government spending for many purposes.

Yet I find myself reluctantly opposing these decisions by County Executive Jan Gardner and Mayor Michael O’Connor and the Frederick Board of Aldermen.

Any government program — especially any new program or any large expenditure — deserves examination. But upon examination, the $1,000 payments fall short in several ways:

Purpose — In a News-Post report, O’Connor described city employees as being tired and burned out after many months of dealing with the coronavirus crisis. I’m sure that’s true, and I commend them all for the terrific job they have done under difficult circumstances. Indeed, some type of program to pay bonuses — especially to those whose jobs required face-to-face contact with the public throughout the crisis — may be in order. I’d strongly support bonuses.

But that’s not the rationale provided by either Gardner or O’Connor. The purpose of the spending would be to encourage unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated. Would that even work? I’ve seen no definitive studies where paying incentives moved the needle (so to speak) compared to other strategies. Governor Hogan tried using lottery payments as incentives. While I admire novel thinking, I’d admire it even more if someone could show me these ideas actually work.

Public health — So if the payments are to improve public health, they need to compete with other public health priorities. If Gardner offered Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, our public health officer, more funding for public health needs in Frederick County, would $1,000 payments to people who, in many cases are already vaccinated, be first on or even make it to Dr. Brookmyer’s list? I suspect not.

Cost — The proposal feels more opportunistic than thoughtful. We’re talking about essentially “found” money supplied by the feds through the American Rescue Plan Act. (Well, the city is going back to the drawing board because not enough board members voted for that approach.) Without the“found” money, would either Gardner or O’Connor have suggested this idea? Vaccines have been widely available for months. Taxpayers reasonably ask why we should pay people who are already vaccinated.

And we’re not talking pocket change. The estimated amounts are $2.5 million in the county’s case, and $650,000 in the city’s case. Even if these payments are eligible under the act, are there better ways the county and city could make use of this temporary federal largesse?

Also, why $1,000? Why not $500? Why not $642.50? How was the $1,000 selected? Beats me.

Politics — As a liberal Democrat who believes government often needs to play a strong role, I’m particularly sensitive that Democratic office-holders not make decisions that are easily attacked as Democratic profligacy (even though I believe those attacks are usually wrong!).

Unusual times sometimes demand unusual solutions. When our nation was attacked by terrorists in 2001, Congress created an entire new federal agency — the Transportation Security Administration — and empowered agents of the federal government to screen everyone boarding airplanes. These aren’t things you would normally expect the Republican U.S. House (at the time) or the conservative George W. Bush to support.

But despite our unusual times in 2021, we still need to apply common sense to our actions. Don’t get me wrong. I strongly support everyone getting vaccinated. Frederick County’s positivity rate has been stuck stubbornly above five percent for weeks now. That’s 20 times what it was in June. We still need strong, effective responses to coronavirus.

Unfortunately, this proposal — though well-intentioned — isn’t one of them.

Don DeArmon recently received his booster shot, but he is still hunkering down until Frederick’s positivity rate declines. He writes from Frederick. Email him at don.dearmon@gmail.com

(7) comments

phydeaux994

A lot of people planning to get the vaccination will wait to collect their $1000 before getting it. It’s a bad idea.

Dwasserba

“Unusual times sometimes demand unusual solutions.” Just get them vaccinated. We can’t fix people who are ignorant or stupid, all we can do is bribe, entice or throw a bag over them and drag them into the bushes for forced vaccination. Choose.

MD1756

Or we can terminate their employment. It is their choice. If we reward bad behavior now what happens when the next health issue (or other issue) comes up. People might be more likely to wait and see if incentives are offered, thus delaying quick and decisive action. Anyone can refuse to get a shot and they no the consequences for doing so, then they get what they deserve. If they are allowed to work without getting a shot, I should have the right to know so I can minimize the risk to me by avoiding interacting with anyone who chooses not to do what is best for society.

lcarleen

[thumbup]

Dwasserba

Hmm. I didn’t consider terminating since the idea of terminating for this would be new, and thus carry a risk of being sued, which would mean, all of us city taxpayers, sued. Ugh. While the unvaccinated may “deserve” what they get, nothing informs the rest of us regarding who among the unmasked is risking what they deserve that we don’t. Because we can get it. Hopefully milder, but some have risk factors that don’t assure that. We roll the dice any time we interact unmasked, gambling on someone else’s altruism. There are people refusing who swear up and down about taking proper precautions. I know of one last week. Swearing up and down is no guarantee you won’t get sick and those closest to you will then have to be tested just to visit you in the hospital. Some may test positive, boom, you die without them, bye. This scenario is not rare enough for average people by now not to imagine the stress, the pain, the lasting effects. And yet. So pay them. They’re not fully evolved or something. Whatever. I can’t fix that right now. They already walk around unmasked, hoodwinking us all, har de har. Fix that.

threecents

I don't think the payment will be any more effective than a lottery ticket, and that did not work so well. But maybe the lottery ticket idea was not publicized enough, and they did not give actual lottery cards to people when they were vaccinated. A few lottery tickets and a coupon for a free whopper or big mac would probably be just as enticing as $1000 to the holdouts, and it would be a lot cheaper.

lcarleen

[thumbup]

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