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McLean County committee endorses $1,000 COVID vaccine incentives for all county employees

Cassy Taylor, John McIntyre, Jim Soeldner
Eric Stock
The McLean County Board Executive Committee voted 6-2 Monday to recommend paying $1,000 to county employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine.
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A McLean County government committee has endorsed a plan to pay $1,000 to each full-time county employee who gets the COVID-19 vaccine.

The County Board Executive Committee voted 6-2 on Monday to use federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to provide the incentive. The county previously approved funding to pay McLean County Nursing Home employees $1,000 to get the COVID vaccine.

McLean County is due to receive $33 million in ARP funds to provide various forms of COVID relief. The incentive would also go to all county workers who have already received the vaccine.

County board chair John McIntyre said “there’s no perfect solution” to getting more people vaccinated, but said the county should take additional steps to reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread and lower its health care costs by limiting the risk of hospitalization.

McIntyre added he would have preferred a vaccine requirement for county workers.

“I totally believe that anybody ... involved in working with the public should have been vaccinated. That’s just my own philosophy. We all have different ones in this room,” McIntrye said. “There should have been a mandate for us as county employees.”

The county has not proposed any vaccine requirement. Gov. JB Pritzker has required most health care workers and teachers and get the vaccine, or submit to weekly coronavirus testing.

Executive committee member Chuck Erickson said while he supports vaccines and even encouraged vaccinations in McLean County Health Department public service announcements, he doesn’t agree with the concept of paying employees to get jabbed.

He added the county is setting a bad precedent if it needs to encourage future vaccinations.

“Pretty soon you are going to have to give everybody an incentive to get the booster shots, and I think since COVID is here to stay, if we are going to have to give everyone a booster shot every year, we are going to have to give everyone an incentive every year,” Erickson said.

McIntyre indicated the funding only covers a one-time incentive for COVID vaccinations.

Committee member Laurie Wollrab voted against the incentive, but for different reasons. She said the county should have been more concerned about COVID vaccination rates earlier in the year instead of waiting until federal money was available.

“I just think this is not the right approach to ensuring that people get vaccinated,” Wollrab said.

County interim administrator Cassy Taylor indicated county staff who provide religious or medical exemptions would still be eligible for the $1,000 payment, but not those who simply opt out of getting the vaccine.

Committee members McIntyre, Josh Barnett, Randall Martin, Catherine Metsker, Susan Schafer and Jim Soeldner voted for the incentives. Erickson and Wollrab, the only Democrat on the committee, voted "no."

County Clerk Kathy Michael addressed the committee during public comment and asked members to approve funding for bonuses for essential McLean County employees. Michael said she asked county administration about offering such a bonus months ago.

“To see that vaccinations were tied into the meager $1,000 (incentives) out of ($33 million), I just need more clarification because this is disturbing to me,” Michael said.

Taylor later indicated Michael’s request for “premium pay” was a separate issue that the county could consider later.

Soeldner later asked when he could propose a plan for COVID-related bonuses for county workers. Taylor added she would work with him to have a proposal ready in November.

Taylor said the county has $725,000 budgeted for the vaccine incentive. She said it would apply to all county employees who work at least 600 hours per year. She said employees who work less than full time would receive $500. Elected officeholders would be eligible for the incentive, but elected county board members would not.

The County Board Finance Committee voted against the incentive proposal last week.

Taylor said the county does not yet have data on how many nursing home employees got the COVID vaccine after the incentive was offered.

The measure goes to the full county board for a vote on Oct. 14.

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