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Georgia plans $1,000 bonuses to responders with federal cash

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File photo (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he will use federal COVID-19 aid to pay $1,000 bonuses to every police officer, sheriff’s deputy, firefighter and emergency medical technician statewide.

Kemp made the announcement flanked by House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican who had proposed an earlier version of the idea in July.

Other workers who will be eligible include prison and jail guards, probation and parole officers and 911 dispatchers. The governor also plans $300 payments to volunteer firefighters across Georgia. His office said the payments should cost up to $100 million.

LINK: Office of Planning and Budget’s grand funding opportunities website

Georgia has nearly $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 aid that it’s deciding how to spend. Kemp announced earlier that he would spend most of the money to expand high-speed internet access, rehabilitate and expand water and sewer infrastructure and to offset the economic harm of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state already used federal money to make $1,000 payments to K-12 and preschool teachers, university employees, as well as state workers who make less than $80,000 a year.

Florida recently paid $1,000 bonuses to police, firefighters, medical personnel and teachers. In May and June of 2020, New Hampshire paid weekly stipends to first responders, including volunteers. Some other states have paid hazard pay to some categories of workers, including $250 that Louisiana paid to frontline workers last year.

Kemp’s office cited employment data showing about 80,000 employees in the included positions statewide. About 10,000 others are volunteer firefighters, officials said.

Kemp said the money is not hazard or premium pay, as authorized by federal law, but is intended to help the workers cover costs such as testing, cleaning, childcare or health bills they have incurred from exposure to members of the public who may have COVID-19. However, workers won’t be required to document expenses. Individual public safety agencies, including private ambulance companies will apply for the money between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, and get money based on the number of employees they had in August. Local governments will have to document volunteer firefighter hours. No one will be eligible for more than one bonus.

Ralston in July proposed $25 million for $1,000 bonuses for police officers and deputies statewide.

Ahead of 2022 state elections, many Georgia Republicans are trying to make the case that voters shouldn’t trust Democrats on crime, even though state government has traditionally had a limited role in fighting crime, with most of the responsibility falling to local sheriffs, police departments and district attorneys. Kemp has repeatedly touted state police efforts to arrest fugitives and cut down on street racing and stunt driving.

Those efforts have focused heavily on the city of Atlanta, although shootings have risen in many areas across the state and nation. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is pushing a $70 million crime-fighting plan that includes 250 more police officers for her city.