Louisiana rallies planned in effort to keep $600 benefit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More than a dozen unions and citizens’ groups say unemployed workers will demonstrate at U.S. senators’ offices in nine Louisiana cities to demand continued $600 federal coronavirus unemployment benefits.

Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy are among Republicans supporting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to cut that benefit to $200 a week on top of state unemployment pay.

“That would sever a critical lifeline at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking, businesses continue to face mass closures, and whole industries have been decimated,” said a news release about Thursday’s planned protests.

The groups said Louisiana’s economy would be especially hard-hit because it relies on tourism, and would lose $1.4 billion.

Louisiana’s June unemployment rate was 9.7%, compared with 4.6% last year.

Protests are scheduled in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Metairie, Mandeville, Houma, Monroe and Shreveport.

Participating groups and unions include the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice; Step Up Louisiana; Unite Here! Local 23; LiUNA! Local 99; the Louisiana Budget Project; Black Voters Matter; the Workplace Justice Project; the Southeast Louisiana Building and Construction Trades Council; the International Association of Ironworkers; CPD Action; All Streets, All People; We, The People of Northwest Louisiana; the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.

The state’s 7-day average for new cases had fallen into the 300-to-400 range in May but has ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 since June 23, according to state data.

As of Wednesday, the state had confirmed the coronavirus in 112,773 people, and 3,769 of them had died. Hospitals were treating 1,544 COVID-19 patients, 221 of them on ventilators.

As rising numbers of hospitalized patients strained hospitals, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statewide mask order and closed bars statewide earlier this month. More recently, he extended that order at least until Aug. 7.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.