Virus Outbreak Louisiana

A worker in protective suit and mask talks to a driver who has been through the COVID-19 drive-through testing at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., on Friday, March 20, 2020. The two women in blue T-shirts also are masked.

(The Center Square) – A Louisiana House of Representatives committee on Wednesday approved giving $250 in “hazard pay” to “essential” employees who have been required to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure targets health care, public health, first responder or child care workers who worked outside their home for at least 200 hours between March 11 and May 15 in a job “substantially dedicated” to pandemic mitigation or response. Workers who make more than $50,000 per year would not be eligible for the payments.

Funding would come out of the state’s $1.8 billion federal CARES Act allocation, meant to help pay for state and local governments recover from the pandemic.

Rep. Sam Jenkins, the Shreveport Democrat who sponsored House Bill 70, wanted to use $50 million from a $300 million fund lawmakers carved out of local governments’ portion of the CARES money to make the payments. Additional payments could be made if more money is available.

Jenkins said the checks could help the workers meet immediate needs, and the spending could help stimulate the economy.

“We feel like this is an investment,” he said.

Rep. John Stefanski, a Crowley Republican, proposed an amendment to take the payments from the “total pot” of CARES money rather than the business fund. The committee approved that change over objections that it could deprive local governments of needed federal aid.

“We have yet to do anything for the working people of Louisiana,” said Rep. Matthew Willard, a New Orleans Democrat who supported the bill’s original version and opposed Stefanski’s amendment. “Our local governments are in dire need for this money.”

The House Ways and Means Committee also advanced Senate Bill 6 by Republican Sen. Bret Allain, who chairs his body’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, which would temporarily suspend corporation franchise taxes on the first $300,000 for small businesses with $1 million or less in taxable capital.

“This is another one for the mom-and-pops,” said Rep. Stuart Bishop, the Lafayette Republican who chairs the committee.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.