The Legislature created the Louisiana Military Family Assistance Fund in 2005 to award need-based grants to families of Louisiana National Guard and Reserve forces called to active duty since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It also benefits guard units tapped for natural disasters like hurricanes. In all, more than 11,800 men and women are eligible for the program, as are their 12,000 or so dependents.
But not a single dollar has been dispensed by the program, and DSS missed its Jan. 1 deadline to file a report on the program to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Today, DSS still can't point out any benchmarks or timeline for the program.
The program is simple enough to follow. Taxpayers have had the option to dedicate all or part of their returns to the cause through a check-off box on forms for individual income, corporate income and franchises. Private donations have also been collected. The fund provides bridge money, or emergency cash, to families who have lost a source of income due to their military service.
Applications can be for something as simple as new tires or rent; the initiative was engineered to reach as many people as possible and concentrates on the smaller complications of life in the Guard. However, more substantial allotments are also available for casualty cases. A lump sum payment of $2,500 is supposed to be offered to the families of soldiers killed in action, missing in action or taken prisoner.
Blanco formed an oversight board for the fund, required by the enacting law, earlier this year. Its initial meeting was held this month. Roughly $10,150 is sitting in the fund, based on records released by the state treasurer's office. Conversely, board members were told at their March meeting that upwards to $100,000 has been collected, according to Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Terrebonne Parish who authored the original legislation and serves on the board. Dupre says there may be a chunk of private donations out there that haven't been added to the total tally yet.
Cleo Allen, a spokesman for DSS, refused to release any numbers or shed further light on how the program is progressing. But this much is sure: no guidelines have been drafted for the disbursement of the money. A call seeking comment from Blanco two weeks ago was not returned, but Allen says the 2005 hurricanes stretched the process out longer than expected and there was a slight hold for more money to come in. "We did experience some delays with Katrina and Rita," Allen says, "but remember that the whole point is moot without the money."
It was a challenge for all state departments in the wake of the 2005 hurricane season, but it's interesting to note that one of the board's first official actions, as prescribed by law, was to find an independent administrator to take over the program from DSS. Dupre says there may be an ethics opinion in the works to weigh in on DSS' involvement, but the department hasn't shown him it is overly enthusiastic to come on board. "Reading between the lines, I think DSS wasn't sure that they were the ones to kick this thing off, but it falls under the law," Dupre says. "We are all tied together at the hip."
The original legislation was part of Blanco's 2005 policy package, had a slew of coauthors and faced no opposition. The governor described it as an "opportunity to add something substantial toâ?¦ prayers and support." It is modeled after a program launched by Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, and there are similar initiatives in at least 14 other states. A dozen or more are considering legislation. In Illinois, the Legislature there jumpstarted its program with a $5 million gift and raised an additional $1 million through check-offs and corporate donations.
There was an effort by Sen. Joe McPherson, a Democrat from Woodworth, to have Louisiana match dollar-for-dollar what the fund raises annually, but it was shot down in 2005 amid talk of tight budget years ahead. Based on recent interviews and bills pre-filed for the spring regular session thus far, there doesn't seem to be any movement to dredge the topic up again.
It's shameful. If there were ever a year to spread money around ' strapped with a surplus and elections around the corner ' this is it. Money from candidates' campaign accounts can be channeled into the fund as well, which would be a wiser investment in Louisiana than negative television commercials.
Dupre says the oversight board will be discussing the hiring of a third-party administrator, possibly a nonprofit, at its April meeting. Whoever assumes the role, the administrator will be the group that actually awards the claims to military families who show a financial need. A commitment was made several months ago and it's time to pay up. "We should have been done with this by at least mid-2006," Dupre says. "This just should have gotten off the ground sooner."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, December 10, 2013:
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
Last week, the Saints gave up 429 yards to Seattle, second most in a game this season.
Since Anthony Jennings and Brooks Haack were not expected to contribute until next year at the earliest, it seemed like a sneak peek at hidden Christmas gifts.
Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team's stellar defensive play so far this season. "Apparently we like to bite on the double moves," Rivera said.
Computer hackers may have gained access to the personal information of thousands of Louisiana residents who use debit cards issued by JPMorgan Chase for three state agencies, authorities said Wednesday.
Jim Purcell, who has been in the job since February 2011, notified the Board of Regents about his decision at its monthly meeting.
Hushed plans for a commercial development along the Louisiana Avenue portion of the Holy Rosary campus put the future of longtime tenant EarthShare Gardens in jeopardy.
If a recent advertisement in The Daily Advertiser is any indication, speculation the local daily will be implementing the “Butterfly Project” could be more of a reality than the Gannett-owned paper’s top execs are willing to admit.
Mettenberger injured his left knee while unloading a 32-yard completion in the fourth quarter of No. 14 LSU's 31-27 victory over Arkansas last Friday, and LSU coach Les Miles confirmed the severity of the injury on Wednesday.
An ordinance to phase out a 2 percent rebate to Lafayette merchants for collecting and remitting on time sales taxes cleared the City-Parish Council by a 6-3 vote.
Louisianans are the fourth most likely to use profanity yet also the fourth most likely to be courteous. So, please, just kiss my a** ... if it’s not too much trouble.
The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Tuesday to authorize two lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A long night on the field in Seattle got even worse off of it, and now the Saints are operating on a compressed time-frame as they brace for surging Carolina with first place in the NFC South at stake.
Public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion won't be affected by Louisiana's shift to more rigorous educational standards for two years, the state's top school board decided Tuesday.
Vitter told The Associated Press that he is sending an email to supporters Wednesday and is in discussions with his family about the possibility.
The Ragin' Cajuns go for New Orleans Bowl three-peat, this time against the Tulane Green Wave, which is making its first postseason appearance since the Hawaii Bowl in 2002.
Louisiana has joined four other states in filing a so-called “friend of the court” brief in support of Mississippi’s lawsuit against the federal government over new flood insurance rates set to go into effect.
Kerry Wayne Bertrand was charged Monday for the alleged killing of his stepdaughter, Skylar Lee Credeur, a UL Lafayette chemistry major found dead in the bathtub of her family home in August.
Louisiana's state school board is considering a two-year delay for some consequences tied to the phase-in of more rigorous educational standards, called Common Core, at public schools.