As authorized in the enacted State Budget 2022-2023 by Part ZZ of Chapter 56 of the 2022 Acts, the Health Worker Bonus Scheme (the “Program”) allows for the payment of bonuses to “recruit, retain and reward health care and mental health workers”, that meet certain eligibility requirements. See NY Soc. Service §367-w(1). Those employees with qualifying titles and specified annual earnings and/or hours worked are eligible to receive awards in installments of up to $3,000 based on hours worked during five consecutive six-month vesting periods from October 1, 2021 through March 31, 2024 Therefore, school district employers will be required to measure employee hours worked beginning in 2021.
The definition of “healthcare and mental health workers” includes certain school district staff, cooperative education service boards (BOCES), charter schools, non-public schools, and approved preschool programs for students with disabilities. If they have not already done so, these educational institutions should register with the program portal using a national financial system ID.
While the New York State Department of Health (“NYSDOH”) originally published an FAQ explaining the program, it left significant ambiguity and unanswered questions for schools, such as does bonus payments include aides or behavior specialists?; (2) What is the deadline for schools to submit applications for the first embargo period and is the deadline set for October 31, 2022?; (3) are 10-month employees counted as continuously employed?; and (4) are “continuous hours worked” calculated in the same manner as they are calculated for FMLA eligibility?
Today, these questions have been largely answered in the updated NYSDOHs FAQ towards employers in the education sector as follows:
1. Does the definition of “other direct caregivers” eligible for bonus payments include assistants or behavioral specialists?
– No, “Other direct care workers” does not include school auxiliaries and assistants as they are not titles falling within the definitional terms set out in Section 367-w(2).
2. What is the deadline for schools to submit applications for the first lockdown period and is the deadline of October 31, 2022 firm?
– Recognizing that schools may not be able to complete embargo 1 applications by October 31, 2022, there will be “administrative” flexibility for the purposes of staff submission of embargo 1 and embargo 2 applications .
3. Are 10-month employees considered continuously employed?
– Yes, qualified school staff are considered to be continuously employed for 12 months regardless of how the salary is paid (ie over 10 months or over 12 months). The NYSDOH’s response to this question appears to indicate that “continuous hours worked” are calculated in the same manner as they are calculated for FMLA eligibility.
Questions undoubtedly remain for schools as they continue to navigate this new system to determine employee eligibility for bonus payments and to track and file claims for such bonus payments. We hope that there will be further guidance after the first embargo period. Such guidance is especially important given that the Medicaid Inspector General, along with the NYSDOH, has authority to conduct audits and investigations of all eligible employers. And those schools that fail to accurately identify, claim and/or pay a bonus for more than 10% of eligible employees can be subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per violation of the program.
When you begin or continue to submit award claims for your “Healthcare and Mental Health Workers” through the program portal We urge you to document and retain all information that supports your determination that the employee qualifies to receive the bonus payment (ie, title, job responsibilities, number of hours worked during the vesting period, etc.).
We continue to closely monitor all developments related to the program and will issue additional guidance as information becomes available and shared with our team.