Harkins, Merski, Bizzarro urge state to expand hazard grants

ERIE, Aug. 26 – Saying it creates an unfair situation that arbitrarily rewards some workers but not others, state Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, are calling on officials to revisit the state’s hazard pay grant program, which they claim unfairly excluded thousands of essential workers.

In a letter to Dennis Davin, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the lawmakers and several other colleagues from the Northwest Democratic Caucus are demanding a new round of grants.

“Hazard pay is designed to compensate workers for braving dangerous conditions on the job,” Harkins said. “With the advent of the pandemic, the risks may arise in different ways, but they all amount to the same basic danger: the possibility of contracting a potentially deadly illness. It’s illogical and irresponsible for the state to separate out some workers as more deserving of hazard pay than others.”

“Essential workers are just that – essential to the commonwealth,” Bizzarro said. “Whether they are transporting a patient by ambulance, providing nursing care or dispensing a prescription, they are all serving acute needs and, in the process, knowingly exposing themselves to danger. By selectively designating some essential workers as eligible for hazard pay but not others, we are suggesting that some are more deserving than others when nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s a senseless distinction, and we need to correct it.

“There were other problems that suggest a need to revisit this program, as well. For example, there are reports of workers at some supermarkets and small grocery stores not receiving hazard pay although they were eligible.”

“At its core, the hazard pay program is a great idea, and it has helped thousands of workers, but it has also created a basic unfairness,” Merski said. “We’re telling some workers – including our police, firefighters, EMT workers, healthcare workers and other workers – that they were considered essential in March and April, when it came to keeping us safe, but that they are no longer essential when it comes to being recognized for their dedication and bravery.

“This is extremely unfair and sends a terrible message to these frontline heroes, who are still putting themselves out there every single day to keep us safe. That’s why we’re working to correct the situation. They have our backs; we need to have theirs.”