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STAFF PHOTO BY G. ANDREW BOYD The Louisiana state capital building in Baton Rouge, LA, with the Exxon chemical refinery in the background, in this 1992 file photo. ORG XMIT: NOLA2016012911291110 ORG XMIT: NOLA1704071906228255

Legislation to provide relief dollars to the logging industry in Louisiana is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 642 would create the Louisiana Loggers Relief Program to issue a total of $10 million in grants for timber harvesting and timber-hauling businesses.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, sponsored the measure along with co-sponsors Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Appropriations Committee Chair Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

The House Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved the bill on Monday and could be heard on the House floor later this week.

“These businesses hadn’t been included in any of the federal agriculture relief programs that other farmers and agriculture producers had been able to utilize,” Zeringue said.

The program would be administered by the state treasurer using resources from the Louisiana Main Street Recovery Program. Funding comes from Congress’ American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided $5.18 billion in aid to Louisiana for a variety of purposes.

Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, applauded the legislators for realizing the role that loggers play in supplying essential products to the state and country.

“It’s a good way to recognize people that often go unseen but are extremely vital,” Vandersteen said. “The governor called them essential workers, and they worked through all of COVID-19. They kept things going, and they made sure that the mills had the fiber that they needed to produce paper products and building materials.”

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In December, Congress included $200 million in funding for logging businesses that suffered a loss in revenues due to the pandemic.

But Congress never specified the rules for obtaining the funds, and with the change in presidential administrations, the money was further delayed. While other agricultural industries were granted relief, logging businesses never saw federal money.

Jeff Zeringue, media specialist at the Louisiana Forestry Association, said that not only did they suffer from the pandemic, but loggers in the state are also hurting from the hurricanes that devastated southwest Louisiana in 2020.

“House Bill 642 recognizes the importance of loggers to the forest industry, and it’s giving them a helping hand,” said Vandersteen. “It’s not going to correct all of their issues, but it does give them a helping hand to make it through and get back on their feet.”

The Louisiana Loggers Relief Program would allow individual logging businesses to receive up to $25,000.

The measure also creates the Louisiana Save Our Screens Program to provide $4.5 million in grants to movie theater businesses and the Louisiana Water Infrastructure Program with $300 million in funds to community water and sewer systems.

HB642 also creates the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities Fund, or GUMBO fund, with $90 million available for broadband access in rural areas.