BR.boatparade.070520.01.jpg

Participants in the 4th of July False River Boat Parade shows signs of support to the frontline workers on False River in New Roads, La on Saturday.

The state modified its rules to pay more $250 stipends to people who worked while others sheltered-in-place during the initial spike in coronavirus infections.

The Department of Revenue had set aside 25% of the total $50 million allocated for workers who applied by mail. So few have – 806 in all – that the agency last week officially changed its regulations to make more money available for the 242,218 online applications.

Revenue had issued 106,601 rebates as of Tuesday, though more are finalized each day. About 7,013 applications were rejected because the worker made more than $50,000 a year, which is the cap in the state law. Another 26,903 applicants were ruled ineligible under the state law that lays out the qualifications, such as not working the allotted amount of time or not working in one of the designated job categories.

Revenue department employees are wading through the remaining applications, another 103,000 or so, checking qualifications. About $23.3 million remains to be distributed, which mathematically is just about enough to cover the remaining requests. However, applications are being accepted throughout October.

Democratic lawmakers came up with the $50 million Frontline Worker COVID-19 Hazard Pay Rebate, a one-time $250 payment, as a balance to the Main Street Recovery Grant Program, pushed primarily by Republicans, that earmarked $275 million for small businesses to apply for up to $15,000 in grants if they meet a wide range of qualifications, including having suffered an "interruption of business" because of the pandemic.

Both programs were overwhelmingly supported by state legislators in both parties.

Both pots of money came out of a roughly $850 million of federal dollars that was supposed to help strapped local and parish governments cover the additional costs, though not lost revenues, brought on by reacting to the highly infectious and deadly COVID-19.

Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote legislative leaders last week to say, “Main Street is simply not working.” Edwards noted that Main Street had a “massive and expensive public relations campaign” advertising the program and its administrator, State Treasurer John Schroder, a frequent Republican critic of the Democratic governor. But only $58.4 million of the $275 million has been obligated, Edwards said.

He wanted to shift part of the unused Main Street dollars to shore up the trust fund that pays unemployment benefits and to help local governments that are facing the choice between tax hikes or bankruptcy.

Angered at the governor’s comments, Schroder said he has already awarded $72 million of the $275 million authorized, has 37,000 applications and has obligated $255 million in all.

Additional federal money for local government has been held up on Capitol Hill because Republican lawmakers disagree with each other over how much money and that’s before negotiating with Democrats who are seeking about $900 million. Few observers believe the federal stimulus package, which includes money for the unemployed, will be approved before the Nov. 3 elections.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.