HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Five extra days off. Governor Wolf promised that to state workers who got vaccinated. But how much is the cost? Lawmakers are trying to crunch the numbers during budget hearings in Harrisburg but the arithmetic isn’t so simple.
The Nov. 1 policy gave the 70,000 employees under Governor Wolf’s jurisdiction five extra paid days or lump sum equivalent if they got vaccinated by Dec. 31. Lawmakers are taking shots at the attempt to get shots into the arms of the unvaxxed.
“I want to go back to the vaccine cash giveaway program we have here in the commonwealth,” Rep. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster) said.
Treasurer Stacy Garrity called the program a back-room deal that would cost taxpayers a hundred million dollars. The Wolf Administration scoffed and called that wildly inflated. So what will it cost?
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“Right now that estimate is about $45 million across the commonwealth,” Office of Administration Secretary, Michael Newsome said. “So there’s a huge disparity between what the treasurer is saying and what you’re saying, that’s where we’re at,” Greiner said.
The real question is, how many workers got vaccinated because of the enticement? Which won’t be easily calculated.
“It wasn’t our practice to ask every employee about their vaccination status,” Department of General Services Secretary, Curt Topper said.
So the state doesn’t know how many were vaccinated before the program so it’s hard to calculate who got vaxxed as a result of it. But corrections Secretary George Little testified that before the payout offer about 47% of his nearly 16,000 employees (15,728) were vaxxed. After, about 51%.
“We do think the incentive did have some impact on raising that number,” Little said.
The needled moved just four points at corrections. But statewide, according to the Governor’s Office, about 69% of employees verified their status and will collect the benefit. Which benefits everyone, they argue, because workers are less likely to get sick or die.
“With all due respect, it’s money well spent. I’m not talking about the policy, I’m talking about the process,” Topper said. A process in which lawmakers were cut out of. “People back home get frustrated when they hear people in the government are getting this benefit and they themselves don’t,” Greiner said.
State workers have until Friday to opt-in to the program and officials say they won’t know the full cost to taxpayers until the fall.