Tulare to offer bonuses to vaccinated employees

The city of Tulare will use up to $220,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to grant $500 bonuses to city employees who get or are already vaccinated against COVID-19

TULARE – In a county that has trailed in vaccination rates compared to much of the rest of California, the city of Tulare will now offer $500 to city employees who get or are already vaccinated against COVID-19.

The decision to financially incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations for city employees came at the Dec. 7 council meeting, where the first $9.8 million of the city’s $18 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act stimulus money was approved for use on a 5-0 vote. The approval included the voluntary vaccination bonuses, which will be funded through ARPA.

At the Dec. 7 meeting, Tulare city manager Marc Mondell said the recommendation for vaccination bonuses was strictly business.

“We are not a staff making an opinion, this isn’t a political statement one way or the other, there’s a lot of debate in the community and across the nation on effectiveness, or legitimacy,” Mondell said. “The reality for us is very simple. As management of employees, we have to comply with OSHA rules and regulations.”

COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be legitimate, safe and highly effective, but Mondell’s concerns are of the city’s operational effectiveness. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health—better known as Cal OSHA—rules state that fully vaccinated employees without symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms. Unvaccinated employees must still go through the protocol of testing and quarantine after close contact.

“That can dramatically impact operations. From an operational perspective, there is a benefit to the city organization to have employees who are vaccinated,” Mondell said. “We want to encourage that through this incentive.”

Mondell said the program is voluntary, and the $500 bonuses will be available to both full-time and part-time employees who can produce evidence of either the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccination or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson option. Booster shots will not be required by the city to be eligible to receive the vaccination bonus. The maximum expenditure would be $220,000.

Although trailblazing in encouraging employees to get vaccinated, Tulare is not the first in the county to foray into using ARPA funds to incentivize vaccinations. Porterville has partnered with Sierra View Medical Center and Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency to offer $100 gift cards to anyone who gets vaccinated through their program. The city is drawing from its ARPA funds to cover the cost of the gift cards.

Tulare County HHSA spokesperson Carrie Monteiro said the county has been providing vaccines for over 7,000 vaccinations through the partnership so far, most recently at the Christmas Polar Express Drive-Thru at Porterville College, where first, second and booster doses were available, as well as pediatric doses for children ages 5 to 11.

Only 47.3% of Tulare County’s 473,117 residents have the first two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Much of the vaccinations came in the initial push back in March and April of 2020, and have steeply declined since then, with a slight bump back in August, likely a reaction to the delta variant. Booster shots—encouraged by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are available for everyone 16 and up.

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