THE INVESTIGATORS: Respiratory therapist speaks out after missing out on front line worker rebates

Woman says she was cut out of rebate program for workers on frontlines of COVID-19 due to salary cut off

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Some folks who have been keeping the state going during the coronavirus fight can now get a little thank you from the state through a $250 rebate. One front line worker though tells the 9News Investigators she and others she knows were cut out of the program because of the income restrictions.

Department of Revenue Secretary, Kimberly L. Robinson, says the program was a way to show appreciation to those workers.

“It’s to show the gratitude and appreciation that we as the state of Louisiana and the citizens of Louisiana have for those people who have put so much on the line,” Robinson said.

The program was so popular, more than 25,000 folks flooded the web portal in the first few hours that it was available to fill out their form in order to get that rebate from the state. The state also experienced a network issue shortly after launching the online portal which caused issues for those trying to access it. The problem was quickly corrected and those front line workers were once again able to fill out their forms by Wednesday afternoon.

Those workers who qualify include doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and others who were essential during the coronavirus outbreak but there are limitations. One of those restrictions exclude anyone who signs up who makes more than $50,000 a year.

Shon Morris works as a respiratory therapist in Jefferson Parish. While she fully dedicated herself to her job during the pandemic, taking on extra shifts and taking care of those who were sick, she says because she makes just over the cutoff, she won’t qualify and she says she’s not the only one.

”When you knock us out of this incentive then that’s almost like a slap in the face,” Morris said. “That kind of knocks out like more than half of the respiratory therapists and nurses that are really truly on the front line so my question is who are you really focusing this on?”

Morris tells WAFB’s Scottie Hunter not only was she in the trenches but she even caught the virus back in March, bringing it home to her husband who also got sick. She believes if anyone deserves the rebate, it’s her and others like her.

”We should because we were careful. We were dressed out. We did everything right but we still caught it,” she said. “Everybody understands that we make a little more money than the average person or someone else but I’m taking on more risk and that’s what it is, I’m taking on more risk.”

The 9News Investigators took those concerns to the Department of Revenue Secretary who says her heart does go out to those who are excluded but she says when lawmakers worked out how they would distribute the $50 million, an income cap would allow them to help more folks.

”Putting that income cap in place was one of the ways that they were able to reach a broader section of the population and more of the population that the 250 dollars was really an amount that would have a real impact,” said Robinson.

Robinson says their goal is to help as many of those front line workers as possible though and tells me there may be a way to do that soon.

”If there’s more money available, I’m sure they’d like to come back and look at this program in a different way and add more dollars to it and that’s something that if they come back to a special session in October and there are additional dollars that they would be looking at how they could then reach those additional people,” said Robinson.

While Morris says she’s not calling out those in other jobs who do qualify she hopes everyone, especially those in healthcare, is taken care of after they took care of so many others.

“It’s not about the money,” said Morris. “When you’re talking about people in the hospital setting, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

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