Gov. Tom Wolf offers paid leave for vaccinated state workers

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Gov. Tom Wolf offers paid leave for vaccinated state workers

State employees in Pennsylvania will get five days of paid leave for getting fully vaccinated by the end of the year as part of an incentive program announced by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

A notice to 72,000 state workers sent Monday indicated anyone who receives a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-approved vaccine by Dec. 31 can take up to five days of paid “verification leave” between Dec. 20 and March 31.

As part of the Democratic governor’s plan, any unused time by the end of March would be paid out as a lump sum. The secretary of the state’s Office of Administration, Michael Newsome, said the incentive would help further protect the state’s residents.

“As one of the largest employers in Pennsylvania, we want to make sure our workers have the resources they need to be safe and healthy and be an example to other businesses to follow,” Newsome said in a statement. “Most of our employees, approximately two-thirds, have worked in-person throughout the pandemic and continue to do so.”

Newsome said the new paid leave package will help “end” the pandemic in Pennsylvania, but the state’s Republican treasurer, Stacy Garrity, called on Wolf to ditch the plan, estimating it could cost the state more than $100 million.

“This decision by Governor Wolf — made in a backroom deal completely outside of the state budget process and away from public scrutiny — is fiscally irresponsible,” Garrity said in a statement.

Garrity called on Wolf to abandon the “ill-conceived scheme” immediately.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Gov. Wolf said vaccinated state workers can take days between Dec. 20 and March 31.
Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP, File

“At a time when so many small businesses have been forced to close permanently or continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic, there are far better uses for these funds,” Garrity’s statement continued.

A Wolf spokeswoman, meanwhile, disputed the treasurer’s take on the program, which will be paid for with funds within the state agencies’ budgets, PennLive.com reported.

“Calling it a ‘backdoor’ deal is perplexing, completely inaccurate and not helpful toward our ongoing efforts to encourage vaccinations and fight this pandemic,” Wolf’s press secretary, Beth Rementer, told the website.

If it’s implemented by the state Treasury Department, Garrity determined the cost of the plan could exceed $500,000. Wolf’s administration previously announced in August that state employees who got vaccinated would get a paid day off.

“Any employee who has already verified their vaccination status to receive this paid day off will automatically receive the additional five days of leave,” Wolf’s administration said Monday.

Pennsylvania’s Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff denounced Wolf’s plan in a statement as “tone-deaf” in addition to being fiscally unsound.

Some 72 percent of Pennsylvanians over 18 have been fully vaccinated and nearly 93 percent have gotten at least one dose, Wolf tweeted Tuesday.

A columnist for the Allentown Morning Call, meanwhile, blasted Wolf’s plan as a “waste of money” since many state workers — including those in prisons and state-run veterans’ homes — are already required to be vaccinated or get tested regularly.

“He should encourage other workers to get their shots,” columnist Paul Muschick wrote Tuesday of Wolf. “But he shouldn’t waste tax dollars to pay them to.”

The “verification leave” incentive applies to eligible management or non-represented employees and represented employees under Wolf’s jurisdiction whose unions agree to participate, Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan told The Post.

One labor union, AFSCME Council 13, had agreed to take part and other unions are expected to follow, Egan said.

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