Accountant Joel Robideaux, a former state legislator and Lafayette Parish president, and Baton Rouge attorney Jason DeCuir, who has been heading the Legislature’s Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force since April, have teamed up to bid on a contract to administer the $300 million in federal pandemic relief money the Legislature has set aside for small businesses.
State Treasurer John Schroder’s office is technically in charge of the small business program, which is due to start up July 4, but is farming out its day-to-day operations, which include vetting applications and deciding which small businesses qualify for grants under the program.
Earlier this month, Schroder issued a request for qualifications. Several were submitted, his spokesperson confirms, though she was unable to make them immediately available before this afternoon’s publication.
Robideaux, however, confirms he and DeCuir are among those seeking the contract, which could be worth up to $15 million, or 5% of the total $300 million, which is coming from the federal CARES Act pandemic relief package.
Though Robideaux and DeCuir are not currently business partners, Robideaux, reached by phone this afternoon, says they decided to team up for the potential deal because they both have experience in the arena.
“As mayor-president I handled a lot of programs, CDBG programs, that kind of thing, and I’m familiar with the process,” says Robideaux, who served in the Legislature from 2004 to 2016 and as parish president from 2016 until January. “Jason also has a lot of experience in this area.”
Both Robideaux and DeCuir are also very politically connected and close to those in the current Legislature, which, over the objection of the Edwards administration and local governments, reallocated the $300 million to create the small business grant program from $800 million originally intended for local governments.
Robideaux, besides being a former elected official, is a known personal friend of current Senate President Page Cortez and owns property with him, according to records from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office of Corporations.
Cortez’s Cortez Management LLC and Robideaux are the officers in an entity called Bluebird Heaven LLC.
DeCuir, meanwhile, was tapped earlier this spring to spearhead a legislative committee convened to craft a legislative agenda to help the state recover economically from the coronavirus shutdown. The committee has focused on a largely pro-business agenda and has pushed to get more money into the hands of small businesses.
DeCuir could not be reached for comment for publication because he was testifying before a legislative committee this afternoon.
Robideaux says he understands why it might appear there is a potential conflict of interest with their bid for the contract but he says, “I think all the applicants are connected somehow. … But I know they got a lot of good applicants and I’m confident the selection process is going to be above board.”
Schroder’s office declines to comment because the selection process is still under way.