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City announces $1,000 incentive for vaccinated workers

Courtesy of Baltimore County
A health care worker prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine.

Baltimore officials announced Tuesday that fully vaccinated city workers will receive a one-time incentive payment of $1,000, hoping it will push more employees to get vaccinated. Every worker fully vaccinated by Jan. 14 of next year is eligible.

According to data from the city’s health and human resources departments, city workers are vaccinated at a higher rate than Baltimoreans age 18 and up: about three-quarters of Baltimore’s 12,500-member workforce are vaccinated, compared to two-thirds of adult residents.

Another quarter of the city’s workforce have not reported their vaccination status to the city.

Mayor Brandon Scott will use money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund for the incentives, according to a news release. The act gave Baltimore $641 million in federal relief money for pandemic relief efforts and infrastructure programming. Should every city worker get vaccinated by Jan. 14, the incentives could total $12.5 million.

Mayor Brandon Scott ordered a vaccine mandate for city workers in October that required them to upload proof of vaccination to an HR portal, but allowed employees to opt-out and receive weekly testing for COVID-19 instead. The city operates free-of-charge testing clinics for those workers.

Per the mandate, fully vaccinated means a city worker has received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine or the full series of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The city is operating booster clinics for employees multiple times each week, but the additional shots are not yet required.

City workers who fail to comply with the weekly testing option and do not upload their vaccination status are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Per the mandate, workers must provide the city with their vaccination status by Jan. 14.

Scott had been mulling a vaccine mandate since at least August, when an official first said at a public hearing that the city was planning on implementing a vaccine mandate and financial incentive for employees. Shortly after, Scott called the remarks premature.

In a statement, Scott said the incentive is “about doing everything in our power to protect our employees and our residents.”

“We are still in a pandemic. People are still losing their lives and getting seriously ill because they are not vaccinated,” the Democrat said. “I want to thank all of our employees who have already uploaded their vaccination status, and to all of our workers who haven’t received their vaccine yet, now is the best time to do so.”

City Administrator Christopher Shorter said he hopes that the vaccine mandate and incentive program will encourage more workers to get vaccinated and provide the city with their vaccination status.

“We remain focused on prioritizing the safety of our workforce and the communities they serve so that we can continue to provide efficient and effective services throughout this pandemic,” Shorter said in a statement.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.