McDonogh 35 history teacher Donald Hess works with his students. The Louisiana Department of Education will receive about $2.6 billion from the COVID-19 relief package. (Photo courtesy of Donald Hess)
Louisiana is set to receive more than $5 billion in state and local budget aid from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, funding that will help with vital infrastructure needs, the head of the state’s municipal association said Thursday.
Of the total, $3.1 billion has been earmarked for the state budget, while local governments will receive $1.9 billion in aid.
The funding will “help our local governments address a lot of the pandemic’s issues and also related infrastructure issues,” John Gallagher, executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Association, said Thursday. “We’re going to be working with our members to make sure that this money is put to good and responsible use.”
President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act Thursday afternoon, expecting to provide welcomed financial relief to Louisiana schools, residents and local and state budgets.
The bill includes funding for:
- Up to $1,40-per-person stimulus payments for the majority of households
- an extension of expanded unemployment checks
- An expansion the child tax credit, temporarily giving most parents monthly checks
- An increase in COVID-19 testing and vaccines
- Financial relief for state and local governments, restaurants, child care centers and schools
Gallagher said the Louisiana Municipal Association strongly supported the latest COVID-19 relief package — along with its aid for local governments. He said the Louisiana Municipal Association, along with their national partner the National League of Cities — which represents 19,495 cities, towns, and villages along with 49 state municipal leagues — have been vocal to lawmakers throughout the negotiations about the need for aid in municipal budgets across the country.
“We have a lot of these smaller towns and cities across the country that just suffered tremendously from shutdowns,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher pointed to New Orleans’ budget impacted by the losses in tourism and hospitality and Lake Charles has “pretty much depleted emergency funds for trying to meet the cost of COVID” and two hurricanes.
A portion of the bill’s infrastructure funding can be spent on expanding rural broadband, water projects or sewage projects, he said.
The aid is “really going to help our local governments address a lot of the pandemic’s issues and also related infrastructure issues,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to be working with our members to make sure that this money is put to good and responsible use.”
The Louisiana Department of Education will receive about $2.6 billion from the COVID-19 relief package. About $2.4 billion will go directly to local school systems and the other $200 million will go to the state educational agency, an investment that State Superintendent Cade Brumley said the education department is grateful for.
“Our team is working to ensure these funds will help school systems preserve in-person learning when possible, combat learning loss and fill in the gaps for families and educators,” Brumley said to the Illuminator.
Eddie Bynog, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Housing Corporation, said the relief package includes $4.5 billion dedicated to helping residents catch up on utility and energy bills, but doesn’t yet know how much will go to Louisiana residents. He said the Louisiana Housing Corporation will receive official guidance next week, and should know the state’s utility aid disbursement by then.
Louisiana’s all-GOP delegation in Congress voted against the relief bill.
Sen. Bill Cassidy said in a phone conference with reporters Thursday morning he’s “disappointed” that the relief package passed without any bipartisan support. Cassidy said less than 9 percent of the bill “went to actual COVID relief. Instead, it was just a vehicle to take across about $1.5 trillion worth of liberal priorities.”
“It was just an excuse to borrow $1.9 trillion to get things through that liberals have been wanting to get through,” Cassidy said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement to the Illuminator that he’s appreciative of the work Congress has done to provide more funding and “the relief is welcome.”
“The bill is very lengthy and we are going through it now to understand exactly what it contains and the rules around how the dollars can be used,” Edwards said.
Edwards recently released his 2021 budget proposal that includes increases in spending in K-12 and higher education schools. State officials feared that Louisiana’s budget was going to take a huge hit and result in large cuts to education programs and social services in the wake of the pandemic and seven named storms last year.
But officials have largely been able to plug the state’s large budget hole with federal COVID-19 relief funding. Edwards doesn’t have any cuts in his budget proposal, the governor said in February.
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