2021 | Government

Audit finds portion of COVID-19 hazard pay distributed to county employees who weren’t eligible

Most went to permitting, police, animal services and transportation departments

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About $515,000 in hazard pay distributed to Montgomery County employees in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was awarded incorrectly to workers who weren’t eligible, according to an audit released Friday.

That represents 0.6% of the approximately $89 million in differential pay that was paid out while the program was in effect between April 2020 and February 2021.

Nearly all of the overpayments occurred in four county departments: Department of Permitting Services, Police Department, Office of Animal Services and the Department of Transportation.

In November, the county’s Office of the Inspector General released a report that found some employees in the permitting department received the extra $10-per-hour differential pay for time they worked in the office and at home — not exposed to the public.

The findings prompted a review of all county departments, which spanned nearly a year and was released Friday.

Federal COVID-19 relief money was used to fund the hazard pay.

The audit found no evidence of fraud or deliberate falsifications of timecard entries, though it was “not a specific focus of this review.” Instead, about 95% of improper payments were due to employees incorrectly selecting the pay for which they were eligible. For example: The employee entered that they conducted front-facing work and were eligible for the $10 differential pay, when they were instead doing office work and were eligible for the $3 differential pay.

Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno said in an interview on Friday morning that the county has begun discussions with employee unions to develop processes to repay money paid incorrectly.

“Our intent is to get every dollar overpaid returned to the county,” Madaleno said. “We need to repay every dollar.”

County Council President Tom Hucker was not immediately available for comment on Friday afternoon.

The report says that county officials “took corrective action” following the inspector general’s November report and clarified procedures for payments.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com