NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) – As state legislators prepare to begin another special session on Monday (Sept. 28), some say the state of Louisiana’s unemployment trust fund is a top concern that will be addressed during the 30-day conclave.
Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, a Republican from Houma, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Troy Carter, a Democrat from New Orleans, who is chairman of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee agree the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on the unemployment trust fund,
“Unemployment insurance is going to be a critical issue. We are in the process, the beginning to borrow money from the federal government to meet our obligations where we’re required to pay unemployment insurance,” said Zeringue.
Carter said the nearly depleted fund must be replenished beyond a loan.
“We don’t have the luxury of just not funding our employment benefits. If we run out of the trust fund or we dip below we have to replenish that somehow,” said Carter.
So, state lawmakers will look to federal dollars Louisiana received as part of the CARES Act that have not yet been spent.
“There’s going to be the reappropriation of CARES Act money that hadn’t been all used. One of the most specific and important uses would be to stand up, if you will, our Unemployment Trust Fund, as you know, there’s nothing in the playbook to deal with what this state or any other state had to deal with in the way of unemployment,” said Carter.
The unemployment fund that had a billion dollars not too long ago has dropped below $100 million and by state law, there are triggers that go into effect once the trust fund dips too low and that affects taxes businesses in the state pay.
“There are triggers and there’s the obligation that they will have to pay based on the employees, number of employees, and other factors,” said Zeringue. “So, based upon that the way the statute reads right now, yes, there will be an increase that employers will have to pay.”
But Zeringue and Carter say putting more financial pressure on struggling businesses is not what they would like to see happen.
“The last thing we need to do in Louisiana is have to tax our businesses any further in a time like this, so the fortunate thing is that we do have some dollars that are available that were unused through CARES Act that has to be reapportioned and redirected so that probably is the single most significant that we will do during the session, the other things and that certainly doesn’t take 30 days,” said Carter.
Zeringue said there will be attempts to ease the burden on businesses.
“And that’s why we’re looking at everything from maybe suspending some of those triggers, looking at ways that we can develop or generate revenue to provide assistance to businesses so that they don’t bear the brunt,” said Zeringue.
The proclamation containing the official call for the special session contains 70 items or areas lawmakers can delve into over the monthlong session. Zeringue says lawmakers will also work to aid the Hurricane Laura recovery.
“Addressing the response to Laura, in terms of helping and addressing both throughout the state, not just southwest, throughout the state and we’re looking at some of the things that can be done to help the response,” Zeringue stated.
And the agenda items will give Republicans who are critical of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses implemented by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards an opportunity to challenge his authority to make emergency declarations.
“The intent is not to necessarily usurp the power of the governor but it’s looking at how the legislature can work with the executive powers to try to open the economy back up and get people back working again,” said Zeringue.
But Democrats in the legislature like Carter say it is an attempt to hurt Edwards.
“Some of the measures are specifically in place to challenge the governor’s ability to singularly declare an act of declaration in the case of some kind of emergency. Well, the constitution is very clear, there’s a reason why that power rests with the chief executive because you have to make quick decisions. It’s not a deliberative body that has to debate issues; an emergency is an emergency,” said Carter. “So, we will have to fight and stave that off.”
Both Carter and Zeringue hope Congress soon passes legislation which calls for billions of dollars to be set aside to help states and local governments that have lost tax revenue due to the pandemic.
“We’re hoping that the federal government will end the partisan divide and will get resources to Louisiana to save what’s left of an economy that’s definitely in peril,” said Carter.
“Obviously, we anticipated that at this point and everything we heard that Congress was going to act and provide some additional funding primarily with more flexibility so that it can be used to both help local entities, governments, and businesses, as well. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, we still hold out hope ultimately that it will,” said Zeringue.
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