As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, the federal government appropriated millions of dollars to help its citizens recover from problems ranging from sickness to hurricane recovery. The support was distributed through the first round of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that included a broad range of expenses such as payroll, personal protective equipment, rental assistance, paid sick leave, contact tracing and many other items. Also included is support for results of Hurricane Laura.
The Parish Government Office of Community Services LIHEAP is energy assistance for qualifying families. As part of CARES Act funding, OCS received $167,870, $600 per household for 279 households OCS also received a Community Services Block Grant of $303,641 for rental, mortgage, utility assistance and food; also includes $5,000 for summer feeding program or $750 per child 18 and under; and $9,811 for emergency food and shelter, rental and mortgage payments Parish Government has applied for and been approved for $1.4 million reimbursement from FEMA for debris removal caused by Hurricane Laura but has not yet received payments.
CARES Act money helped move Natchitoches Parish Schools into the digital age as the money equipped the system to be able to prepare for virtual learning as a way to fight the COVID-19 outbreak. Perhaps the largest recipient in the Parish was the Natchitoches Parish School Board. In late May, the board received $2.9 million to pay for technology upgrades and safety equipment. The school board established 100 “hot spots” around the parish so students who did not have access could get WiFi and log onto the Internet to get assignments.
The school board purchased 2,300 iPads with cases and keyboards that could be tracked if lost. Teachers received laptops for home use and the whole system was outfitted for virtual instruction. CARES Act money also replaced water fountains with dispensers from which students could fill water bottles; hand sanitizers at all schools; additional cleaning supplies; 150 desks to facilitate social distancing; touchless thermometers; metal detectors that could detect temperature; and paper masks, gowns and shoe covers.
The school board is awaiting reimbursement for damages caused by Hurricane Laura. All 16 campuses were touched in some way ranging from minor to major such as the air conditioning system at Natchitoches Jr. High.
The City does not yet have a final figure on the Hurricane Laura. The City received funds from the Louisiana Cares ACT in the amount of $1,868,492. “This is all we will receive,” said Finance Director Debbie Miley. The reimbursement to the City was for wages, benefits and supplies. Wages included firefighters, police officers and City employees. It covered employees if they were out with Covid or in quarantine.