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Inexact, Inefficient, Ill-timed: The First Responder COVID-19 Grant in Effingham County

The administration and disbursement of a grant funded by the state of Georgia has taxpayers forking out more than necessary and First Responders in Effingham County coming up short. The blunder, however, appears to be on the part of the County government.

The issue stems from a grant made available by Governor Brian Kemp in August 2021. Kemp allocated $1,000 per person in ARPA funds for COVID-19 relief payments. The payments specifically were for officials who worked in public safety during the pandemic. In simple terms, the payment mirrored a stimulus, but was subject to some withholdings and passed through the local governing body before it was disbursed to the eligible employee. 

Who Was Eligible for the Grant?

A full-time law enforcement officer, corrections officer, juvenile corrections officer, jail officer, probation officer, parole officer, communications officer, firefighter (including volunteer), or emergency medical services worker by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council (GFSTC), or Department of Public Health (DPH).

  • Based on employment and payroll information between August 1 and August 31, 2021. 
  • Former employees who did work for an agency during that period are still eligible, according to the Governor’s Office.

Eligible full-time public safety officials and first responders were to receive a $1,000 grant. Volunteer firefighters are eligible for a $300 grant.

The grant application and administration process was as follows:

  1. The county collected all of the payroll information of eligible employees and submitted the documents to the state;
  2. The state reviewed and approved/denied the employee(s) application;
  3. The state issued a lump sum payment to the county;
  4. The county issued the supplement to the employee(s).
Public Records on Effingham County from the State

TheGeorgiaVirtue.com filed an Open Records Request with the Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget (OPB) regarding Effingham County’s grant request back in March. The office provided the grant application dates, the payment status details, application amounts, approval amounts, and the date on which each amount was approved. 

Effingham County submitted 16 different waves of applications – two on December 8, 2021 and the remainder on December 21 and 22, 2021. Grant applications were processed by the state in the order they were received after the grant opened for applications on October 1, 2021.

The county requested a total of $272,248.50 and the state approved every dollar of the request. 

OPD told TheGeorgiaVirtue.com that amounts were transmitted to local governments within a week of the approval date and documents from the office show Effingham County’s first approval was on February 13, 2022.

Nevertheless, the county issued the funds to public safety employees in a pay period ending April 8, 2022. Eligible employees were notified on April 6, 2022 of the forthcoming direct deposits.

Effingham Deducts Too Much

The uneven number paid out to Effingham County by the state – $272,248.50 – accounted for the FICA contribution to ensure the employee received the full amount of the supplement, per the OPB. The objective there was to offset any associated cost the county could incur and would subsequently act as a deterrent to applying for the grant. 

Document was last updated on 11/21/21

Local government applicants had to submit payroll information that detailed the employer’s contribution to FICA. The county was allocated the funds over the amount of the $1,000 (or $300 for volunteer firefighters) for each individual based on their deductions to ensure the county was not at a loss for Social Security & Medicare payments.

According to IRS publications, ‘withholding’ is defined as ‘the amount of federal income tax withheld from your paycheck.’ The amount can vary by person, depending on how withholdings are paid, but the ‘type’ of withholding remains the same.

Effingham County, however, paid out on Workers Compensation, retirement plan contributions, FICA, and Medicare. From the employee side, it deducted retirement contributions, federal tax withholdings, FICA, Medicare, and state withholdings. 

So, not only did the county deduct too much from the checks of eligible employees, it overpaid on its own liabilities, therefore driving up the cost of the grant, per employee, on the local taxpayers since the expenditures exceeded the amount allocated by the state. 

It is unclear how many eligible employees were paid out under the grant as TheGeorgiaVirtue.com has repeatedly filed records requests for related documents on employee rosters. The county has denied maintaining records related to such or has provided incomplete documents.

One thing is certain: Effingham’s administration of the grant does not match the standard as completed weeks and months ago by neighboring cities and counties.

administrator
Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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