They weren’t hard to spot when Louisiana went into lockdown, the people deemed so essential that they went to work while others sheltered at home — even though doing so put them at greater risk of being infected with the coronavirus.
A bill that moved quickly through the state Legislature and is expected to get Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signature is proof they were seen, and appreciated.
Under the terms of House Bill 70 by Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, some 200,000 frontline workers in Louisiana should be eligible for $250 in hazard pay, to be funded with $50 million of the state’s federal coronavirus aid. The measure covers people who make less than $50,000 a year and worked for at least 200 hours while the governor’s initial stay-at-home order was in effect, in fields such as health care, public transit, sanitation, and emergency, fire and law enforcement. Grocery and convenience store workers are included as well.
The bill was pushed by Democrats but it won unanimous backing in the Republican-majority House and Senate. That’s good news. Politics should have no role in determining whether to support Louisiana’s working families, particularly those who took care of vital business during a scary time.
It’s not a windfall by any means, but $250 will pay some bills, buy some food or necessities or maybe even allow a splurge or two. More importantly, it’s an acknowledgment of the sacrifices some Louisianans were asked to make so that the others could be fed, cared for and protected.
The Louisiana Legislature has a long record of looking out for the interests of business, and with the economy taking a massive hit from the pandemic, this year’s regular and special sessions have been no exception. Lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have promoted tax breaks for businesses that the state can ill afford, and successfully diverted $300 million of the federal aid meant to help localities weather the crisis into a new program for small businesses, run not by the Democratic governor but by the Republican state treasurer.
It’s less often that lawmakers spend their political capital and their cash on behalf of the people who show up and do their jobs every day — even when it’s dangerous and even when they have to deal with added challenges such as having kids home from school.
So we consider this measure to help workers a step in the right direction. We hope it won’t be the last one.