Working full time for a governmental agency should provide enough to support a family, but hundreds of Mobile County employees said on Sept. 16 that’s far from the truth.
County employees lobbied the Mobile County Commission in a work session for a substantial increase to their salaries with stories of having to work second jobs or requiring financial help from children. Some employees said they could become homeless even though they are working since the health insurance cost is set to increase.
One county employee said she has already experienced that, however.
Brandy Johnson works for Mobile County and is a single mother. She said even though she was working, her son and she faced a situation no one wants to endure — being homeless.
“In May, my son and I were homeless,” she said. “I had no money saved and the first night we stayed in my car. I’m now in a temporary home thanks to a friend in the license commission. There are a lot of employees in similar circumstances.”
Johnson was working for the county when she was homeless. She said more people working for the county could become homeless if the subsistence allowance is cut.
A subsistence allowance was created in the 1980s, following a lawsuit by law enforcement officers. The allowance currently gives employees $10 for every day the person works an eight-hour shift, but that is due to a temporary increase. The pay is set to go back to $5 on Oct. 1. The money is paid to offset expenses employees incur during a workday.
Though Commissioners Merceria Ludgood, Connie Hudson and Jerry Carl all voiced support for a raise, one commissioner went further in his requests. Carl called for the health insurance to be switched to the Local Government Health Insurance plan, which would create a savings of $3 million annually, he said, and then use that money for employee raises.
“I recommend using the savings to fund a 2.5 percent raise for the employees and to add $700,000 for Sheriff Cochran to add employees to the jail,” Carl said. “I also recommend increasing the subsistence pay to $15 per day.”
Hudson quickly expressed her concern about the increases.
“When I was on the City Council, we experienced a deficit because we were operating on phantom money and numbers,” she said. “The county is not going to be like that. We need real numbers.”
Ludgood also said she would not support something without the savings in place.
“We have a dynamic budget so this is something we can revisit when the money is there,” she said. “We can’t apply to switch the health insurance until January so that savings might not be what is expected.”
Carl said after the meeting he realized the recommendations wouldn’t likely be approved, but he voiced his opinion.
“I doubt my suggestions will pass, but now everyone knows what I feel,” he said.
Ludgood and Hudson said they would support a $10 subsistence pay, which will help the employees who are paid less.
A 2.5 percent raise would be more beneficial for high paying positions because the increase would amount to more than the extra $5 per day. However, lower paying positions would benefit more in the short-term by having an extra $5 per day worked, which is not taxed.
Both would be losing out in the long run if they went with the subsistence allowance. The allowance is not reflected when calculating retirement pay.
The Mobile County Commission will meet on Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. to vote on the budget.