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From left, Susan Creel, RN, John Selvage, IT, Dr. Ronald Coe, background, Jennifer Gilmore, RN nursing supervisor, Que Washington, ER Unit Clerk, and Radiologist Mick Schwartz take care of business as part of the hubbub of activity at the nurse's station inside the Baton Rouge General Mid City's newly opened Emergency Room Thursday July 2, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson woke up Wednesday morning and saw that about 14,000 frontline coronavirus pandemic workers had applied for a $250 check during the dark hours of the first morning of the application period.

“It was great until about 7:20 and I heard my phone ding. They said, ‘We’re having a problem’,” Robinson recalled during an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Some of the everyday people who worked during the "stay at home" order aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic were able to get through, others were not, still others were unable to complete their applications.

In addition to being the first day to apply for the $250 from the Frontline Worker COVID-19 Hazard Pay Rebate program, Wednesday also was tax day when state income tax returns were due. The deadline to file state income taxes originally had been in April and May, but was postponed because of the fast spread of the often deadly COVID-19.

Both the rebate program applications and the income tax returns used the same computer platform. The third-party contractor and the state Office of Technology Services added extra bandwidth and three servers to handle the expected influx.

“We built it on the tax platform because we knew it could withstand the volume,” she said.

It couldn’t and online access to perform several functions slowed or became inaccessible.

With only about 20%, maybe 30%, able to complete their transactions online, Robinson ordered the income tax return filing deadline until Friday.

“They (OTS officials) still haven’t been able to tell me why some people got through and some people didn’t,” Robinson said, adding that about 25,000 applications had been received by about mid-afternoon.

About 200,000 workers can receive the one-time, $250 payment approved by the Legislature in June and signed into law Monday by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“It got overloaded,” said Jacques Berry, spokesman for the Division of Administration, which oversees the Office of Technology Services, better known as OTS. “It was a big day for Revenue, to say the least.”

Berry said OTS is still working out the exact causes of the problem but suggested that the old computer hardware Revenue uses – updates have been postponed for budget reasons – played a role.

OTS moved in with supplemental hardware and additional processing. The system was taken down for about half hour.

“It’s up and running now and experiencing high volumes,” Berry said. By the end of the workday, at 5 p.m., Berry said about 35,000 applications have been filed.

The checks will be sent in 14-21 days after the application is approved by the Revenue Department.

Workers from bus drivers to garbage collectors to grocery store clerks – people who stayed on the job during coronavirus pandemic while the rest of the state stayed home – can apply at https://frontlineworkers.la.gov/. Applications can be mailed or downloaded in printable form or are available by called (855) 307-3893.

The form is relatively simple and can be filled out online in a matter of minutes. Applicants should have pay stubs on hand.

Under Act 12, workers qualify if they make less than $50,000 a year, are Louisiana residents, and worked at least 200 hours between March 22 through May 14, when the state’s stay-at-home order was in place. They also need to have been employed as of March 11 in a job deemed essential. Obviously, nurse and cops are included. But so are home healthcare providers, hospital housekeepers and laundry personnel, firefighters and emergency personnel, convenience store clerks and home meal deliverers, as well as a host of other jobs in more than two dozen employment categories.

Independent contractors, self-employed individual, and gig workers may be eligible, if all of the same eligibility requirements are met.


Follow Kyle Whitfield on Twitter, @kyle_whitfield.​