St. Martin Parish President Chester R. Cedars
April 18, 2020
I again remind you of the new page on the Parish website for COVID-19 information and updates (www.stmartinparish.net/coronavirus).
As I previously advised, these public reports will be provided on a periodic basis as opposed to daily submissions. Of course, in the face of an important development on any issue of any nature, I will most assuredly promptly advise the public accordingly.
POSITIVE CASES FOR APRIL 18, 2020
The report from LDH for this date reflects that the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the State is 23,580 with 1,267 deaths. This represents, over a two- day period, a statewide increase of 586 positive tests and an increase of 111 deaths. The number of reported positive tests in surrounding areas also increased. The following is the count for our region:
- Acadia Parish 110 cases, 7 deaths
- Calcasieu Parish 309 cases, 18 deaths
- Evangeline Parish 43 cases, 0 deaths
- Iberia Parish 176 cases, 8 deaths
- Jeff Davis Parish 53 cases, 5 deaths
- Lafayette Parish 414 cases, 17 deaths
- St. Landry Parish 133 cases, 20 deaths
- St. Martin Parish 187 cases, 12 deaths
- St. Mary Parish 143 cases, 11 deaths
- Vermilion Parish 30 cases, 1 death
The total reported positive tests in the above Parishes is 1,598 which is an increase of 91 cases in two days. The total deaths are 99 which is an increase of 15 over two days. For the benefit of Stephensville and Belle River, Assumption Parish (adjacent to Belle River) has 143 positive tests and 1 reported death, an increase of 11 positive tests and no increase in deaths.
These numbers are on par with the three-day statistics which were last reported in my updates. Although these numbers are trending downward, they nevertheless MUST get better if we are to experience any meaningful lifting of the mitigation measures in place, including the reopening of our businesses. The last information of which I am privy still reflects that our hospitalizations for COVID-19 are still, daily, greater than our discharges.
Thursday afternoon, Lafayette Parish announced that it was going to authorize several businesses to “open and to operate” pursuant to certain specified conditions. The businesses which were the subject of Lafayette Parish’s actions are those which were not specifically ordered closed by the Governor or those which were deemed essential and could operate in essence without significant restriction. This action of Lafayette Parish has created some confusion for St. Martin Parish.
Please note that the category of businesses which are the subject of the action taken by Lafayette Parish have always been authorized to remain open in St. Martin Parish under the Governor’s Executive Orders 33 JBE 2020 and 41 JBE 2020. However, such operations must continue to meet three criteria: 1) social distancing must be practiced; 2) no more than 10 persons can be present in the business at any given time; and, 3) only workers who are necessary for the operation of the business can be present. Therefore, the action by Lafayette Parish does not impact any business activity in St. Martin Parish.
The right of the aforementioned category of businesses to be open has been discussed in my prior reports. I specifically reference my report of March 25, 2020. Furthermore, I have had follow-up observations about this issue in my reports of March 28th, March 30th, April 3rd, and April 6th. You may wish to review the outline in the March 25, 2020 post.
PROTOCOL FOR REOPENING OF BUSINESS
The Stay at Home Orders of the Governor are scheduled to expire on April 30, 2020. I am hopeful that the number of cases of COVID-19 will continue to trend downward, and thus we will see many of the current measures substantially revised/relaxed so as to permit our business community to commence a return to some degree of normalcy. Indeed, I anticipate guidance from the Governor in the next several days.
In anticipation of the return of our business community, I am asking our Mayors and other business leaders to sit on a committee where consistent, reasonable, and minimal protocols can be structured for their activities, all within any Gubernatorial established mandates. Such a joint effort will enable everyone to be on the same page and the vast knowledge and experience of all of our business and community leaders can the utilized.
Finally, I have spoken with the leaders in Iberia and St. Landry and we will exchange the fruits of our work in the development and implementation of protocols for our respective jurisdictions.
STAY AT HOME ORDERS
Everyone has the April 30th date circled and is as hopeful as I am that we will START to see a return to normalcy by a relaxation of the mitigation measures currently in place. The degree that the measures will be removed is dependent on where we are at regarding the spread of the virus. Thus, we MUST CONTINUE TO ADHERE TO THE MITIGATION MEASURES OF THE STAY AT HOME ORDERS. We have only 12 days to go; thus, we must not become impatient and try to speed up the process – that would be counterproductive. I analogize this situation to a runner who is nearing the finish line – instead of slacking, the runner presses on even harder than before. Therefore, I encourage you to do just that relative to the Stay at Home Orders during these last 12 days – be more vigilant than before.
The following information was contained in my report of April 16, 2020, and is reproduced because of its import ESPECIALLY THE CENSUS REMINDER.
FEDERAL STIMULUS PACKAGES
As all of you know, there have been several federal legislative packages enacted to “stimulate the economy” and provide assistance to those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. These include:
- Public Health Assistance legislation to provide support for federal and state healthcare needs to combat the pandemic;
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act which has two components: The Expanded Emergency Family Medical Leave Act; and, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act;
- The CARES Act which is a $2.2 trillion package that has several components:
- Federal Unemployment Compensation which supplements unemployment payment at the rate of $600 weekly;
- The Paycheck Protection Program which provides low interest loans to businesses up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll. A feature thereof is the forgiveness of the loan if the proceeds are used to retain or re-hire employees;
- Small Business Pay-Roll Tax Deferment plan permitting employers to defer the payment of pay roll taxes until 2021 and 2022; and,
- Recovery Rebate Payment program where everyone who qualifies will receive a $1,200 check for the government-these were mailed this week in many cases.
Another aspect of the CARES Act calls for the distribution of 150 billion dollars to state and local governments based upon a formula closely akin to that used for the CDBG program. ONLY LOCAL GOVERNMENTAL UNITS WITH A POPULATION OF 500,000 OR MORE ARE ELIGIBLE FOR DIRECT PAYMENTS. Therefore, Louisiana’s share of these proceeds will be payable directly to the State since we have no local governmental unit which has a 500,000 population. It is my understanding that the state will distribute 45% of the amount it receives (1.8 Billion dollars) to local government. However, although it is not clear at this point, it appears that the money must be used for expenditures incurred due to dealing with COVID-19 and should be earmarked for public health, public housing, and similar mattes. THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THE PROCEEDS ARE NOT AVAILABLE TO SUPPLEMENT BUDGET SHORTFALLS CAUSED BY COVID-19. Also, the State has not declared what criteria it will utilize in “sharing” with local government the $1.8 billion it receives.
I have been advised that Congress is currently considering additional legislation designed to offer assistance to the States and local government. Consequently, I have transmitted correspondence to our Congressional delegation making it clear that participation in any program should not be dependent on population which is unfair to rural communities. Moreover, I advocate allowing local government to utilize the proceeds according to its discretionary needs so long as it can be demonstrated that those needs are DIRECTLY related to COVID-19. For your edification, the following is the format of the letter sent to our delegation:
April 15, 2020
Senator John Kennedy
B11 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
RE: Direct Aid to Parish Government
Dear Senator Kennedy:
On behalf of St. Martin Parish Government, the undersigned submits this transmittal to urge you to staunchly endorse federal legislation that will provide direct financial aid to local governmental units for revenue deficits associated with the COVID-19 crisis. This entreaty draws no distinction based upon the population of the local governing entity. While I address only parish governing authorities in this correspondence, many issues espoused herein apply with equal force to municipalities.
To fully comprehend the plight of parish governing authorities under the current financial climate, it is prudent, as a seminal matter, to recognize the vast array of financial responsibilities imposed upon Louisiana parishes by law. Thus, I present the following for your edification, noting that locally generated revenue is the primary, and often sole, source of funding for parishes.
It is an understandable misconception that Parishes only address infrastructure needs such as roads, bridges, and drainage structures. Those obligations are indeed the most visible work a Parish undertakes; however, as will be hereinafter demonstrated, it is by no means the only areas of a Parish’s responsibilities.
Louisiana law imposes on parish governments the obligation to provide secure facilities for district attorneys, judges, clerks of court, tax assessors, registrar of voters, and sheriffs. These mandates embrace both the physical offices/buildings of those officials and the supplement of the operating budgets of their separately established constitutional offices.
Similarly, the maintenance of parish jails is the obligation of parish governments. Moreover, the Parish must provide for the food, clothing, medical and dental, and mental health services for all inmates in a parish jail, pretrial detainees and otherwise.
The criminal justice system in most, if not all, local jurisdictions no longer generates from fines, forfeitures, and related penalties sufficient revenue to adequately fund the operating expenses of district attorney offices, judges, law clerks, court reporters, and other necessary components thereof. By state statutory, unfunded mandates, Parish governing authorities are required to provide for all such operating expenses. In this same vein, the current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a mass reduction of services which the Indigent Defender Boards can provide, thus creating backlogs in incarceration and criminal dockets. Consequently, additional financial burdens associated therewith are transferred to parish governing authorities.
The expenses of the parish coroner’s office is likewise a financial charge imposed upon Parishes. As such, the increase in mental health issues, drug abuse requiring commitments, and an abnormal workload associated with COVID-19 public health matters has placed undue, unforeseen, and unbudgeted burdens upon Parish Governments.
Moreover, as referenced previously, the local critical infrastructure obligations of parish governing entities remain at a peak and include roads, bridges, and drainage. The maintenance and projects regarding same have always, and still remain, the sole responsibility of local government.
Furthermore, paramount services which Parishes routinely undertake to preserve public health and safety are at an all-time peak and include, but are not limited to, fire protection services, mosquito control, animal control, recreational facilities, and water services. Many of those duties are discharged by parishes via taxes associated with the operation of health units.
Also, Parishes such as St. Martin participate in a Section 8 housing program which is, as you are aware, especially important today in view of massive layoffs and related economically dire circumstances. The administrative costs associated therewith are addressed and satisfied from general fund transfers.
No commentary is necessary to highlight the significant impact of COVID-19 upon the local revenue stream which is the lifeblood for funding all of the foregoing. Without immediate and aggressive measures, Parish Government will be compelled to eliminate vital services which are necessary for the health, safety, and protection of our local communities.
It is salient to note that the CARES Act, as it is currently drafted, provides no relief directly to any unit of local government in the State of Louisiana. As you are aware, the pertinent provisions of that legislation allows funding to local governmental entities with a population in excess of 500,000, and then only for limited purposes. There is no Parish or municipality in this state with the requisite population.
In light of all of the foregoing, you are respectfully requested to support any and all legislation which will provide direct financial aid to local government without regard to population, all relative to the mitigation of prospective budgetary shortfalls which result as consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.
With kindest regards, I remain
Chester R. Cedars
Let me be clear – St. Martin Parish Government will not DEPEND on the federal government to solve all of our budget concerns. This DOES NOT mean that we will not seek ASSISTANCE; rather, we will structure our budget and expenditures without factoring the potential of any outside assistance. If we receive any sort of assistance, then we will treat it as icing on the cake. In my view, it is imprudent for Government to depend or rely upon uncertain one-time funding to address its recurring needs. Indeed, the first in line for assistance SHOULD BE OUR BUSINESS COMMUNITIES AND THEIR EMPLOYEES.
You are reminded of the importance of completing the 2020 census. Indeed, a crisis such as the current one highlights the import of accurate census data which is a determinant for funding for schools, hospitals, nutrition, and health programs. Moreover, our representation in Congress is dependent upon an accurate census count. I understand that our response rate remains below that of the rest of the nation. Thus, please complete the census forms. Information regarding the census can be found at www.2020census.gov.
I again invite, AND ENCOURAGE, everyone to visit the website designed and managed by Jennifer Stelly, the Executive Director of the St. Martin Parish Economic Development Authority: www.shopstmartinparish.com/covid-19-resources
This site has a wealth of information about the many business opportunities afforded our local businesses as a result of the CARES Act.
Similarly, a complete listing of businesses and the services they offer during this COVID-19 crisis is available at: www.shopstmartinparish.com
I wish to extend my gratitude to Ms. Stelly for a job well done. SMEDA plays a vital role is attracting and promoting local businesses.