City-parish seeking $21.6M in CARES Act reimbursement

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The city-parish is seeking nearly $22 million from the state in CARES Act funding to cover the cost of expenses incurred during the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In a letter to the Metro Council, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome says most of the requested dollars will go to cover salaries for public safety personnel between March 1 and April 30.

Reimbursement requests for expenses incurred in May and June will be submitted later this summer.

But the requested amount is far more than the amount of CARES Act money East Baton Rouge Parish is eligible to receive, which will vary depending on whether funding is allocated according to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ allocation plan or a framework outlined in a bill recently passed by the Legislature.

Edwards had proposed splitting Louisiana’s $1.8 billion share of the federal money, 55%-45%, with local governments and allocating the locals’ share based on population and the amount of eligible expenses.

Lawmakers want control over the appropriation process and also want to carve out some $200 million of the $811 million earmarked for local governments for small businesses still struggling amid reduced economic activity.

If Edwards does not veto the Legislature’s plan, East Baton Rouge Parish would be eligible for roughly $11 million in the first round, only half what the city-parish says it needs in reimbursement. If Edwards does veto the bill outlining the Legislature’s plan and the veto is not overridden, the parish would be eligible to receive $18 million in the first round, still 20% less than it needs.

Whatever amount the parish eventually receives, it won’t all go to city-parish government. Rather, it will be divided among several entities, including city-parish government and other constitutionally mandated offices like the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s office. Those entities have filed their own reimbursement requests with the state and have not shared them with the city-parish, so Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says he doesn’t know yet by how much the city parish will be short.

But Gissel says the city-parish will be able to cover whatever it doesn’t get back in reimbursement, even though sales tax collections for the period also were off by nearly 5%.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the city-parish implemented a hiring freeze and also reduced certain operational expenses, which has enabled it to avoid layoffs and budget cuts. 

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