(The Center Square) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging the federal government to pick up the full cost of deploying the National Guard in the state to help with COVID-19 relief through the end of the year.
The federal government had been fully funding the Guard deployments during the pandemic and plans to continue to do so for Texas and Florida, while asking other states to pick up 25 percent of the cost. Federal officials have not explained the discrepancy.
Louisiana is first in the nation in confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita. The state’s share would be about $2.5 million per month, or about $10 million for the rest of the year, Edwards said Thursday.
“I don’t begrudge Texas and Florida,” he said. “But I will tell you there is not a rational basis to distinguish between Louisiana and those two states.”
National Guard members have filled a variety of roles during the pandemic, including collecting and distributing personal protective equipment, helping out at food banks and helping to stand up and run mobile testing sites.
Edwards held his regular twice-weekly pandemic response media briefing about two hours after a Baton Rouge district judge upheld his recent executive order closing barrooms, mandating face coverings and limiting crowds to 50 people or fewer. He noted other legal challenges are being mounted but expressed confidence other courts would reach the same conclusion.
“What we are doing is necessary, and what we are doing is working,” he said, adding that his orders are “fully consistent with the constitution and statutory authority I have as governor to protect our people during a public health emergency.”
He added that residents should not be complacent about following mitigation practices, which also include frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are not part of your household, just because the numbers have improved in recent days.
Louisiana residents who are out of work will again be required to show that they have been looking for a job if they want to continue receiving unemployment benefits. That requirement has been suspended since Louisiana’s COVID-19 outbreak was recognized in March.
Well over 300,000 people in the state currently are unemployed, and the federal government stopped enhancing state benefits with an extra $600 per week at the end of July. The state’s unemployment trust fund is down to about $270 million, compared to a March balance of more than $1 billion.
“It is time to get those who can back into a job,” Edwards said. “There are several thousand jobs available in Louisiana.”
There are exceptions for people who have COVID-19 or whose employment still is not available because of public health restrictions.
Louisiana on Thursday reported 1,345 new cases of COVID-19 on 15,105 tests. The state has reported 127,246 cases, 89,083 recoveries and 4,028 deaths.
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.