A proposal to send $250 checks to thousands of frontline workers in Louisiana has gained widespread favor in the state Legislature and is close to becoming law, after the state Senate approved the bill Friday.
The legislation was crafted by state House Democrats, who were looking for a way to deliver some coronavirus aid to workers as Republican lawmakers steered hundreds of millions to businesses.
House Bill 70 is sponsored by Rep. Sam Jenkins, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. It passed the Senate 38-0 Friday and heads back to the House for concurrence in changes before going to the governor, who supports the bill.
Louisiana House Democrats have drafted legislation to give $250 checks to front-line workers in health care, child care and first responders w…
Democratic senators on Friday said the legislation is far short of what they believe is needed, but is a good start. Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, who carried the bill in the Senate, said it would send a message of support to those on the front lines of the pandemic, like nurses, grocery store workers, bus drivers and others.
Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, called it a “small gesture” of support, and a fraction of the amount sent to businesses in the legislative sessions that began in March and end Tuesday.
“This is the only legislation in the special session that’s supposed to be about helping our state with the COVID pandemic that would give the people anything,” Luneau said. “And it’s $250.”
The state received $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid for use by state and local governments. The state used more than $900 million in those funds to plug holes in the state budget, and Edwards, a Democrat, originally sought to send $811 million to local governments.
About $300 million in federal coronavirus aid will go to small businesses in Louisiana, after Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislat…
Republican lawmakers, however, decided to take $300 million of that and set up a grant program for businesses, after Edwards’ administration said it was unlikely local governments would be able to tap into all $811 million. Now, $300 million is slated for business grants and $565 million is slated for governments.
Jenkins’ bill would take $25 million from the local pot and $25 million from the small business pot and send checks to a long list of people whose jobs put them face-to-face with the public during the pandemic.
To qualify, workers must make less than $50,000, and have been employed in a list of professions for at least 200 hours between March 22 through May 14.
They would have to be designated as essential critical infrastructure workers as defined by the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Those professions include health workers, emergency, fire and law enforcement personnel, bus drivers, garbage workers, grocery store and convenience store workers, and others.
Democrats originally wanted to take the entire $50 million to fund the program from the small business fund. But Republicans balked, amending the legislation to take it from the local government fund.
The disagreement illustrated the two dramatically different approaches to coronavirus recovery between the two parties. Republicans have advanced dozens of bills to cut taxes for businesses, expand tax breaks and limit the legal liability of companies. Democrats, meanwhile, pushed Jenkins' legislation as a way to send some money to workers, instead of businesses.
Republicans and Democrats in the House hashed out a deal where they would take $25 million from both the small business and local government pot of federal aid. The deal included the understanding that if money is left over in the local government fund, it would backfill the $25 million lost in the small business fund.
The $250 checks come as boosted federal unemployment benefits – totaling $600 a week plus state benefits for all workers who qualify – are set to end in late July. Louisiana's economy has been roiled by the virus, with historic levels of unemployment claims.