Michigan Officials Use $65K of COVID Relief for Employee Bonuses, Including to Themselves

Elected officials in Michigan used $65,000 of COVID relief funds to give employee bonuses up to $25,000, including to themselves, the Associated Press reported.

Commissioners voted last week to award money to county employees, and all workers received at least $1,000. Jeremy Root, chairman of the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners, received $25,000 as a bonus, described as "hazard pay."

Reactions to the bonuses has been divided among the commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Garber said she had received $5,000 and planned to spend it, as putting money back in the economy is part of the American Rescue Plan.

"I think that I earned it. I work really hard at this job. I was here in person all through this crazy year," Garber told WILX-TV.

Commissioner Marlene Webster said she was refusing her bonus, as she did not realize when she voted on the bonuses that they would also go to the commissioners.

"It is completely unacceptable. It is frustrating to say the least," Webster told WEYI. "I've moved through various stages I think of angry and sad and embarrassed. You know, just, I was part of that decision, that not knowing. And on behalf of the Board of Commissioners I'm embarrassed."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

American rescue plan
Commissioners of Shiawassee County in Michigan voted to award all county employees a bonus using COVID-19 relief funds, with one commissioner describing it as part of the American Rescue Plan. Above, Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at an American Rescue Plan virtual briefing in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on March 11, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Shiawassee, the mostly rural county, between Lansing and Flint, has a population of 68,000.

Commissioners are paid $10,000 a year for their part-time job, plus a stipend for meetings.

Besides Root, commissioners John Plowman and Brandon Marks each received $10,000 in extra cash, and the other four commissioners got $5,000 each, MLive.com said.

Webster said she was "mortified" when money appeared in her bank account.

"I'm giving the money back," Webster told WILX-TV. "I think one commissioner is giving it to a nonprofit, so those actions indicate that we truly did not know this money was coming to us."

A message seeking comment from Root wasn't immediately returned Thursday.

Garber said the large payment for Root was justified because he "bears the burden of all emergency orders."

Stephan Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC), said the group works closely with counties about how to spend federal virus-related cash.

"We are not aware of any other counties considering payments to elected officials, and MAC has not provided any guidance or advice to do so....Decisions, however, ultimately rest with the county's board of commissioners in each county," Currie told MLive.com.

Senator COVID Bill meeting
Michigan officials voted to use $65,000 of COVID relief funds for employee bonuses, including to themselves. Above, President Joe Biden hosts a meeting about a COVID relief bill alongside Vice President Kamala Harris (left), with Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (second from right) of New York and Senators Debbie Stabenow (right) of Michigan and Patrick Leahy (left) of Vermont in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 2021. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images