Help for frontline workers

Help for frontline workers

Hundreds of thousands of front-line workers could qualify for one-time “hazard pay” bonuses of $250 under legislation that gained final legislative approval on Monday. The governor supports the legislation. House Bill 70 by Rep. Sam Jenkins was a counterweight to the hundreds of millions of dollars that Republicans lawmakers steered to businesses during the legislative sessions. The bill will cost $50 million, paid for from the state’s federal coronavirus aid. The | The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports: 

Under the legislation, workers would need to apply for the checks and would qualify if they make less than $50,000 a year and are employed in a list of jobs deemed essential. Those include health workers, emergency, fire and law enforcement personnel, bus drivers, garbage workers grocery store and convenience store workers and others. The workers must have worked at least 200 hours between March 22 through May 14, when the state’s stay-at-home order was in place.

As the Legislature rushes to finish its work by today’s 6 p.m. deadline, a final point of contention is a Republican-backed plan to freeze pay raises for state workers in next year’s budget. Democrats, meanwhile, argue that state workers would be left to pay the price for tax breaks and other grants to businesses. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has the story

Democrats have pushed back on giving out millions of dollars in tax breaks, saing the approach is unfocused, won’t specifically help virus-impacted businesses and could worsen state budget problems caused by the outbreak. “You’re asking to go back into a deficit in an already uncertain time,” said Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat. 


Bridging the digital divide
Public school students in Louisiana rank near the bottom nationally when it comes to adequate internet connections and access to computers. That presents a major hurdle as state officials consider how to reopen public schools later this summer, as increased remote learning is likely to be part of the mix. | The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards is filling part of that gap with $32 million from a $50 million discretionary fund created by Congress as part of the CARES Act. 

The $32 million “will directly support bridging the digital access divide through the purchase of student devices and internet access points,” according to plans spelled out in state documents. … “Once schools resume we know they will have to operate differently,” Edwards said. “Distance learning will be a critical tool to enable student learning to continue.” The longstanding digital divide issue came to light again in mid March when public schools were closed because of the virus.


Ignoring workers
When the House Labor Committee considered a non-binding resolution urging Congress to extend emergency unemployment benefits for workers laid off during Covid-19, Republicans on the committee had the opportunity to hear directly from affected workers. As The Illuminator’s Jarvis Deberry explains, they squandered that opportunity, and ignored workers’ very real and immediate concerns. The federal government’s enhanced $600 per weekly unemployment benefit expires on July 31. This will leave the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana workers who recently lost their jobs relying on the state’s benefits, which are the skimpiest in the country. 

During the debate about (Rep. Ted) James’ resolution to ask Congress to extend its Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, Blake Miguez, chair of the Louisiana Republican Delegation, also expressed concern for struggling businesses and asked that James look at both sides of the issue. “I’m going to ask you to look at both sides of it,” James responded, pointing out that the Legislature had given businesses “tax benefit after tax benefit” but had paid little attention to the people who are necessary to “stand those businesses up.” He told Miguez, “We can’t have one conversation without the other.”

What about child care?
As parents begin to be called back to work, uncertainty remains about whether students will return to school in the fall. Axios’ Erica Pandey examines how child care is being overlooked in the reopening process. 

“Most working families need care for at least 40 hours a week, and schools were providing that,” says Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “If that’s gone, there’s nothing to fill the void.” … The bottom line: “It feels like child care is being regarded as a footnote of reopening plans rather than a headline,” Lux-Lee tells Axos. “But until schools properly reopen, there cannot be a return to business as usual. 

With no coordinated nationwide plans in place to address a looming childcare crisis, The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg argues that people in power are ignoring a major and far-reaching problem, set to flare up again as the summer comes to a close.

With expanded unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of July, many parents will have no choice but to return to work by September. Even for parents who can work from home, home schooling is often a crushing burden that’s destroying careers, mental health and family relationships. And online school has had dismal results, especially for poor, black and Hispanic students.


Number of the Day
$18.7 million – Amount that Louisiana Economic Development spent in 2017 through three business incentive programs without doing a cost-benefit analysis to understand how it benefits the state’s economy (Source: Legislative Auditor via Baton Rouge Business Report)