Florida Gov. DeSantis' $1,000 bonus to educators, first responders met with backlash

2 state agencies signed contracts worth $3.6 million with Fidelity Information Services to distribute the checks

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing some backlash for the way the state decided to distribute bipartisan, one-time bonuses of $1,000 to first responders and teachers, according to local reports.

The Florida Departments of Education and Economic Opportunity signed contracts worth a total of $3.6 million with Fidelity Information Services under DeSantis' guidance so that the company could distribute the checks on the behalf of the state rather than allow local city governments to do the legwork, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The governor's office told Fox News that "the standard percentage used for administrative costs of any Federal funding is typically 10%."

"The Department of Education and the Department of Economic Opportunity administrative cost is much lower than 10%, and the Legislature appropriated administrative funds for this purpose," Jason Mahon, deputy communications director for DeSantis, said in a statement.

"The state considered multiple methods for disbursing the funds, including as a pass through to local governments and/or individual employers," Mahon said. "After discussion with many employers who would be dispersing the program funds, concerns were raised regarding passing funds through local governments due to the potential for delays in payment processing."

Still, some took issue with the move, criticizing it as political.

"They could have just sent the money to school districts at no cost to taxpayers," Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said Thursday, according to the outlet. "It sounds like the governor’s wasting money."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, called the move "a joke" in a Thursday tweet replying to the Times' reporting.

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"What a joke. It’s all about getting credit, and it’s not even FL money — it’s from the American Rescue Plan!" Eskamani wrote, noting that the funds for bonuses are leftover from federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Mahon said that the funds are designated as "qualified disaster relief payments," which allows first responders and teachers to receive the funds in their full amount with taxes withheld, saying "the tax dollars saved by administering the funds this way is substantially higher than the administrative costs." 

"Had these payments been made directly by local governments or by employing entities, all or most would have had to classify these payments as wages and thereby greatly increased the cost and reduced the benefit to first responders," he said. "For these reasons, the state opted to make payments directly to First Responders with the assistance of local governments and employers."

The governor's office told Fox News the "funds were allocated from the State Fiscal Recovery fund provided by U.S. Treasury."

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"There were a range of allowable uses for these funds, and many of these uses were addressed by specific appropriations in the General Appropriations Act, Section 152," Mahon said. "Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the Payments to Pandemic First Responders Program was created to provide qualified disaster relief payments for personal costs incurred, in the amount of up to $1,000, to Florida’s First Responders in recognition of the courage, sacrifice, and dedication those individuals showed in serving Floridians and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other states, such as New York, have implemented similar programs using federal funds."

DeSantis initially announced the bonuses for about 3,600 public school principals and nearly 180,000 full-time classroom teachers worth a total of $216 million in March and then announced bonuses for about 174,000 first responders worth approximately $208 million in May.

Other critics have taken issue with the fact that bonuses will not go toward certain employees, such as counselors and assistant principals, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The Times also reported that all of the checks, which are expected to be distributed in mid-August, would include an "office of the governor" insignia, but Mahon told Fox News the checks would only bear the Florida state seal.

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Eskamani, in another Thursday tweet, said the governor "wants his name on these $1000 bonuses which not only costs extra money but also takes more time AND it’s not Florida money."

DeSantis, in a May statement, called the bonuses for first-responders "a small token of appreciation," adding that "we can never go far enough to express our gratitude for their selflessness."