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 Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.