/Some state employees forced to use vacations days, and possibly unpaid leave, amid COVID-19, despite paid leave orders

Some state employees forced to use vacations days, and possibly unpaid leave, amid COVID-19, despite paid leave orders

Despite the fact that Mississippi Gov. Mike Pence has issued executive orders and passed legislation to protect government employees from losing their paychecks in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemics, not all workers have the right to take the paid leave. Tate Reeves. Chris Harper is a worker in the Brandon office of Mississippi Division of Medicaid. He reviews applicants and determines whether a person qualifies for the public insurance program. He is now considered an essential employee due to the coronavirus-related health crisis, which will lead to an increase in Medicaid applicants. His two children, aged 4 and 7, are not in school, and his grandma, who is ill, cannot care for them during the day. Harper takes half of the day off, every other day. Harper’s supervisor tells him that he must take his personal leave, which is the time state employees are allowed to rest, vacation, or attend to family emergencies. Reeves closed all public schools on April 17 due to the virus. However, it is possible that the closures may last much longer than that, possibly even until the end of the year. Harper will probably have exhausted his vacation days at this rate by April middle. Harper stated that he will have to take unpaid leave as per agency policy. Harper stated that Harper was not considering the needs of those who have to continue to work and arrange child care. Reeves announced his executive orders protecting state workers on March 6 and said that his order “actually will ensure that we have paid leaves for any state employees or local employees who are ill with the coronavirus.” Reeves stated that he has given the state agencies broad discretion to make staffing choices that consider the health of employees as well as the value they provide the public. Reeves stated that “they know far more than we do what is essential and what is not.” Matt Westerfield, Medicaid spokesperson, issued a Monday statement, saying that “we are taking steps to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our employees while also making sure that we can carry out our core functions to serve the 720,000 Mississippians that we cover and the providers that are risking their well-being for them to serve them during the crisis.” Another question I get asked is how @MSMedicaid, and thus Mississippi taxpayers, will be able to pay for the expected increase in Medicaid enrollment and utilization. 1/ — Drew Snyder (@SnyGuy), March 23, 2020 Westerfield confirmed that the agency understood that the Mississippi State Personnel Board rules require essential employees to use their vacation days “for now,” while non-essential employees can access the administrative leave provided by Reeves. Follow-up questions regarding what happens to employees with fewer vacation days were not answered by him. Reeves was asked how he would address employees who have to take personal leave in order to care for their children during the pandemic. He replied, “I’m sure that nobody fits that category… I’ll certainly investigate that.” The agency wouldn’t say how many employees were instructed to work remotely, how many of them are still at offices, or how many it might have placed on administrative leaves. Harper is also concerned about his work with 29 other employees, some of whom are older than 60. The department has moved employees farther apart, but they still use the same hallways, touch each other’s doors, and go to the same bathrooms. They’re not trying to contain it. Harper stated that they are allowing the situation to spread. Harper stated that the office doesn’t see clients in person to reduce spread. Harper could technically work remotely if the division had enough computers to provide to all employees. Harper stated that most people who apply for Medicaid during COVID-19 will not be eligible due to their very low income threshold. This is because the state has declined to expand Medicaid under its federal Affordable Care Act. Drew Snyder, divisional Medicaid director, expects an increase in Medicaid enrollment. The state will absorb the cost with federal legislation increasing the amount paid by the federal government, from 77 percent up to 83 percent. Mississippi is the state with the highest federal match. Harper and other essential state employees who deliver the services are suffering the pinch. Reeves stated Tuesday that there are thousands to even thousands of Mississippians who provide essential services to the sick to ensure this situation doesn’t get worse. “I would like to thank all those who are in essential services and especially our health care workers on the frontline: Thank you. “Thank you for all that you do.”