Louisiana Governor looks at attaching financial incentives to COVID-19 vaccine participation

Other states are offering a chance at cash prizes, scholarships and gift cards for vaccinations

By: - May 20, 2021 11:51 pm
Gov. John Bel Edwards

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

Louisiana may soon offer incentives to residents who are willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to boost the state’s dismal vaccination rate

Gov. John Bel Edwards said his administration is discussing sweetening the pot for people who take the vaccine, but he wouldn’t go into details about what type of incentive might be in the works.

“I would expect that pretty soon you’re going to hear that we are going to offer some things that make people — more people — take advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated, but we haven’t made a decision as to what that’s going to look like or when,” Edwards said at news conference Thursday. 

A few other states have already announced plans to offer vaccinated people a chance at a cash prize or gift card. Ohio, New York and Maryland governors have launched special lottery games for the vaccinated. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is giving residents a $100 U.S. Treasury Bond or gift card in exchange for vaccinations.

Some of the governors have run into challenges setting up their incentive programs, which is why Edwards is taking his time examining his choices.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself because there have been some other states that have done that,” he said. 

Louisiana currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. About 30 percent of state residents have completed their vaccine series, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, compared to over 37 percent of people nationwide. 

The state’s demand for the vaccine has become alarmingly sluggish. Louisiana’s chief medical officer, Joe Kanter, said Louisiana will not avail itself of all of the vaccine the federal government is willing to give it next week because it doesn’t believe it would use all the doses offered. 

It’s not clear whether Edwards, as governor, would have to coordinate with state lawmakers in order to launch a vaccine incentive program. Legislators typically have some oversight over state spending issues, but the governor might have federal COVID-19 funding he’s able to distribute without their permission.

Louisiana is expected to receive a lot more money than expected over this budget cycle and the next one. State revenue forecasts jumped by $677 million between now and June 1, 2022, in large part because of direct federal aid for COVID-19 and enhanced unemployment benefits also supplied by the federal government.

Still, the two lawmakers with the most control over the budget were somewhat cold to the idea of using public money to supply cash incentives for vaccinations.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said he would want the option of private funding for vaccine incentives to be exhausted before public funding was considered. Zeringue said he is in favor of encouraging “as many people as possible” to get vaccinated, but he wasn’t sure offering financial prizes would be effective in boosting the state’s rate.

“I would hope most people on their own would get the vaccine, if they wanted to get it,” Zeringue said.

Senate Finance Chairman Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, also said he wants more people to get vaccinated, but no one had approached him yet about funding a vaccine incentive program. He was skeptical offering cash prizes would be an effective method of boosting the state’s vaccine rate.

“I don’t know that we’re there yet,” he said. 

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.