Louisiana News Briefs

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Health department: 324 providers to get COVID-19 vaccines this week

The Louisiana Department of Health says 324 providers spread across all 64 parishes will get some of the state’s limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines this week.

The providers include 139 chain pharmacies, 111 independent pharmacies, 59 federally qualified health centers, 4 rural health clinics and 11 additional sites, LDH says. The list of providers including contact information is available at covidvaccine.la.gov.  

Vaccinations are available by appointment only. Along with residents who are at least 70 years old, other eligible groups include people who work at health care clinics, dentist offices, labs, mortuaries, pharmacies and behavioral health facilities, along with dialysis providers and recipients, home care providers, and students, residents, faculty and staff of allied health schools.

As of Friday, at least 314,328 vaccine doses had been administered, and 41,703 residents had received their second dose, which is needed to get the full benefit, state officials report.

Personal income tax filing opens Feb. 12

The Louisiana Department of Revenue will begin accepting and processing 2020 state individual income tax returns on Friday, Feb. 12.

The date coincides with when the IRS begins accepting 2020 federal income tax returns. State taxpayers can file for free online.

The revenue department notes that while federal pandemic unemployment benefits and the $250 payments the Louisiana Legislature approved for frontline workers are subject to state income tax, the economic impact payments and Paycheck Protection Program funds the federal CARES Act authorized are not.

FEMA: Louisiana aid for hurricanes Laura and Delta exceeds $1 billion

Louisiana has been approved for more than $1 billion in federal disaster assistance, long-term disaster loans and flood-insurance claims since Hurricane Laura made landfall in late August and Hurricane Delta in mid-October, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday.

The bulk of that aid comes through $627 million in low-interest loans to homeowners and renters by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

As of Jan. 20, FEMA says it had approved housing grants to individuals and families totaling $248 million. More than 42,526 survivors have received $70 million in rental assistance, and 17,461 survivors have received $96 million for home repairs, the agency says.

Federal benefit program ends for Louisiana

Louisiana’s improving unemployment rate means the end of one of the federally funded benefits programs that began during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisiana Workforce Commission announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Labor notified the LWC that Louisiana’s unemployment rate no longer meets the criteria to continue the Extended Benefits program past Jan. 23. The labor department says Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 8.3% in November, down from 9.4% the previous month but still higher than all but six other states.

About 5,200 state residents have EB claims. Those with active claims will be transferred to the federal government’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, the LWC says.  

Rep. Harris running for GOP chair

State Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican, is seeking to replace current GOP chairman Louis Gurvich, the legislator announced Monday, days ahead of Saturday’s central committee vote.

“I want to be transparent about the areas where we’re falling behind and do something to fix it,” Harris said. “I want to take the areas where we’re winning and build on them.” 

Harris was first elected to the Legislature in 2011. He announced Friday that he would not try another run at Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District after finishing second to Luke Letlow last fall. Letlow subsequently contracted COVID-19 and died days before taking office, leaving the seat open.

Eddie Rispone, the Baton Rouge businessman who ran for governor in 2019, previously had announced his own challenge to Gurvich before changing his mind.

Louisiana launches ‘COVID Defense’ smartphone app

Louisiana has launched COVID Defense, a smartphone app meant to warn users if they have been exposed to COVID-19.

No personal information is required to use the app, which state officials stress is “voluntary, private, and secure.” The tool uses Bluetooth to exchange tokens between phones without revealing the user’s identity or location. To help ensure these random tokens can’t be used to identify you or your location, they change every 10-20 minutes, the Louisiana Department of Health says.

Once installed, the app will download a list of all the anonymous tokens associated with positive COVID-19 cases and checks them against the list of anonymous tokens it has encountered in the last 14 days, notifying the user if there’s a match and sending further instructions on how to prevent further spread.

For more information or to download the application, visit coviddefensela.com. The app also is available at the usual iPhone and Android app stores.