Here’s how Louisiana’s unemployment agency will use COVID-19 relief money

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana’s labor department is awaiting its share of the $908 billion COVID-19 economic relief package signed by President Donald Trump late Sunday.

The federal legislation will add $300 to weekly unemployment checks through mid-March. And after virus-related joblessness drained the state’s once-billion-dollar unemployment fund, the package will also let the state keep borrowing interest-free federal filler.

“It puts money into the economy,” Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava DeJoie said in an interview Monday. “It keeps businesses open. It helps buy groceries, school uniforms, school supplies, pay the rent.”

The state’s labor department has paid out $7 billion to 700,000 unemployment applicants since March — when the pandemic largely began — compared to $153 million to 100,000 applicants during all of 2019.

The bipartisan relief measure will also let the state’s unemployment office outsource some of its workload to outside call centers, as it has done since the CARES Act passed this past spring. DeJoie says even with the extra help, her office has remained busy.

“It has been tremendously challenging,” she said. “But I could not be more humbled and inspired.”

DeJoie noted small victories that have come since the COVID-19 pandemic reached its height in April. Since then, Louisiana has added more than 175,000 jobs. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from October to November — from 9.4% to 8.3%, respectively. (The November 2019 rate was 5.2%.)

“This year has been something that a lot of books will be written about,” she said.

Congressional leaders say they may consider a third COVID-19 relief bill in the coming months, after President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20.

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