State News

Walmart chooses not to apply for frontline employees hazard grant pay for workers

Courtesy Downtownrutland.com

All employers must apply for grants by Friday

Staff report

Walmart has come under fire for failing to apply for the state of Vermont’s frontline employees hazard grant pay, a program which provides grants of $1,200 and $2,000 to workers who put themselves at risk, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. Many Walmart employees meet these qualifications, however, because the employer must apply, they may not receive them.

State Senators Tim Ashe, Cheryl Hooker, Jane Kitchel, Chris Pearson, and Michael Sirotkin issued a statement on Nov. 5 urging Walmart to apply.

“We are extremely disturbed to learn that Walmart has indicated they will not allow their Vermont employees to receive essential worker hazard pay grants. Their decision, cruel under any circumstances, is especially unthinkable since the grants are intended to thank essential workers who stayed on the job in high risk positions in the earliest days of the Covid pandemic,” the Senators wrote.

“While our society has a long way to go to right the historically unfair compensation of many essential workers, we are proud that Vermont created a hazard pay program to recognize our essential workers with a modest but meaningful financial grant for their efforts during the first three months of Covid. This makes us just one of three states in the country that has done so, having been the first to put a proposal forward and the most generous in what we are providing.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael S. Pieciak announced Nov. 9 several important updates regarding the frontline employees hazard pay grant program. This second round of the program substantially expands the sectors eligible for the grants and includes Vermonters formerly employed in eligible sectors. An additional $8 million of coronavirus relief funds was recently appropriated, bringing the total second round appropriation to $30.5 million.

To date, the department has received potentially eligible applications totaling approximately $27 million in grants. Accordingly, funds are still available, and the department encourages eligible employers to apply by the deadline, which is Friday, Nov. 13 at 11:59 p.m.

The department has already approved 281 applications totaling $12.3 million in grants to approximately 7,000 current and former employees, and those checks will soon be disbursed. Further, the department anticipates completing its review of the remaining applications by the end of this week.

Walmart said in a statement to Seven Days, that it believes Vermont’s program is meant for small and medium employers, “who might be unable to pay a similar bonus. We hope those funds can be more appropriately used by those employers.”

However, the Senators disagree, stating Walmart’s hourly workers are exactly who should benefit.

“Adding insult to injury, since eligible retail employees must earn less than $25/hour to qualify for a grant, Walmart’s decision solely disadvantages its lowest paid employees. And since eligible workers must have been on the job from mid-March to mid-May, these employees can only be considered very loyal to Walmart. Walmart’s non-participation in the essential worker hazard pay grant program is the coldest of shoulders to these most loyal of employees.

“We strongly urge Walmart to reverse course and allow their employees to receive hazard pay grants. It is the right and decent thing to do,” the Senators concluded.

To learn more about the program, apply online, and to sign up to receive periodic updates, visit dvha.vermont.gov/front-line-employees-hazard-pay-grant-program.

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