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Schroder to businesses: Apply for recovery money

Despite his nervousness about an internet-crashing digital launch Tuesday, Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder was able on Thursday to tell COVID-affected Tangiphahoa Parish business owners that new grant money is available.

The Main Street Recovery Grant Program had received 14,000 applications as of Thursday when Schroder spoke at a Greater Hammond Chamber event at Florida Parishes Arena in Amite. He explained the ins and outs of the application process, encouraging small business owners to file claims for expenses incurred by the affects of the pandemic.

Businesses which qualify are those which were domiciled in Louisiana by March 1, 2020; suffered a COVID-related interruption of business; are at least 50 percent owned by one or more Louisiana residents; filed Louisiana taxes in 2018 or 2019 or will file in 2020; had no more than 50 employees as of March 1; have a location visited by customers or employees; are not part of a bigger business with more than 50 full-time workers; do not exist to advance partisan political activity or directly lobby federal or state officials; and do not derive income from passive investments without active participation in business operations.

Each applicant can receive up to $15,000 in reimbursement for their business. State Senate Bill 189, Act 311 set aside $275 million for Main Street Recovery Grant Program.

The program is set to run through Nov. 1, but Schroder advised business owners to apply as soon as they’re able.

“Don’t expect it to make it past August at the pace we’re going,” he said. “Don’t panic. There’s time. I think we’re going to make it through the first 21 days. Last week I really didn’t think we’d make it to that point. Every program that starts like this has crashed.”

Schroder explained the caveats of eligibility, primarily the fact that applications submitted by businesses which have already received any type of financial aid related to coronavirus will be held for 21 days before review for approval. This includes the $1,000 some businesses recently received due to ineligibility for PPP loans.

Previous aid will not disqualify a business for the Main Street Recovery funds, but besides initiating the 21-day holding period, the amount of previous aid received will be deducted from the $15,000 maximum amount of money available to the business. The application also does not allow businesses to claim expenses they’ve already claimed on previous aid.

“The law requires that you prove your expenses. You have to have invoices; you have to have receipts,” Schroder said.

Applicants will be required to prove that they haven’t already received other aid. For claims, Schroder encouraged applicants to gather all their receipts, bills and other relevant documents and scanning them into their computers before beginning the process.

Jeff Atkinson, co-owner of Amite bed-and-breakfast Bienvenue Mon Ami, has already submitted an application for the grant. He advised members of the audience to upload their documents in a way such that each category of expenses can be added to the application as one file, as the form only allows for one file to be added.

Payroll can be claimed in the program, as long as there is proper documentation for the expense and it can be shown to have been affected by the pandemic. For business owners who don’t own their facilities, rent is also eligible to be claimed.

Schroder said the types of items that can be claimed are anything businesses bought to adjust to the pandemic circumstances, such as new set ups to serve customers curbside or via drive-through, new equipment to accommodate changes, and anything bought to protect employees and customers and accommodate social distancing.

“If you have an expense, ask for it,” he said. “You give me a business, and I can almost get you there.”

He also encouraged applicants not to stop just because they’ve reached $15,000 in their claims. He said it’s important to claim anything that may be eligible, as some of what applicants submit may not be accepted, and then they would not have received as much as they could have.

His team estimated that as many as 10 percent of applicants might try to cheat the system and claim things that aren’t eligible. However, Schroder warned that 10,000 hours of review were logged in creation of the application by accountants, with auditors in mind, and anything claimed will be subject to audit.

Quick relief is available to people who have already received $1,000 or less in aid. This application track requires scanning in taxes filed from 2018 or 2019. Schroder said quick relief applicants can expect to receive their checks by Aug. 19 or 20.

Half the applications so far have been for quick relief.

Applications can be updated after submission, and updating the form does not mean the applicant loses their place in line.

Sole proprietors are eligible for the grant, but if they can’t prove they are sole proprietor with documentation, a group of CPAs will calculate an average amount of aid for those applicants.

“There is a misconception that you have to wait 21 days or be a minority for this program. It’s not true,” Schroder said. However, 80 percent of those helped so far by the grant are women or minority business owners, he said.

Those interested in applying can do so at louisianamainstreet.com.

For info about the grant and eligibility, call Schroder’s office at 225-347-0016. For those who have already started the application process, a helpline is available at 1-888-795-4947 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.


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New school year nears

The countdown to back to school is on, and while the start of the 2020-21 year might look different from past openings, Tangipahoa Parish School Superintendent Melissa Stilley said her team is working harder than ever before to make this the best yet.

The Aug. 12 opening date will mark a period of about eight “soft start” dates when a limited number of students will come on campus to become acclimated to their school’s new routines in response to COVID-19, she said.

“First and foremost, our soft start days will be used to teach students procedures and protocols that will keep them safe during the pandemic,” Stilley said, adding that it will also be a time when students will get their Chromebooks and be taught how to used them in the virtual classroom.

“This investment of time on the front end will help to ensure a better start to the school year, regardless if the student is full virtual or attending classes on campus,” she said.

Depending on grade level and in some cases, based on the first letter of a student’s last name, students will attend a staggered schedule those first few days of classes.

As part of the soft start plan, each elementary and junior high student will have four consecutive in-person days with their teachers before classes gear up on Aug. 24.

High school students will attend just a day or two initially, depending on grade level. Stilley said these will be full days of school. Students must report to campus in uniform and face coverings are mandatory.

During the soft start, transportation is available for all students on their assigned attendance days, and a free healthy breakfast and lunch will be available for all students, she said.

CDC and state health officials strongly recommend that schools limit the number of visitors on campus. Under the current guidelines, families are encouraged to send only their students to campus right now.

“In the past, we have had families coming on campus with their students on the first day of school. Unfortunately, the pandemic-driven protocols that have been put in place to keep our students safe do not allow us the opportunity for parents to walk their children to class at this time,” Stilley said.

Some families may prefer not to come to campus at all, even for these “soft start” orientation programs, she noted. In that event, families should make their wishes known to their individual school and set up an appointment to complete orientation at a separate time.

Virtual classes

While the first day of school is just around the corner, Stilley said it is not too late for parents to register their children for the virtual option that the district will offer this year. Registration involves simply clicking on the TangiSchools.org website and signing up, she said.

The district’s new virtual program is far more involved than the optional learning resources students were provided when campuses closed down in March. Stilley said local teachers who are considered experts in their content area worked through the campus closure and summer months to develop the new virtual instruction that will be offered this fall.

“Our virtual classrooms will focus on the same high-quality curriculum our traditional students receive delivered in a dynamic, technologically-rich format,” she said.

Teachers will reach out to virtual students in a variety of ways, including email, phone calls, and Zoom conferencing. She said teachers will adapt their interpersonal communication to cater to the both the student and the child’s family.

“I think our families who choose this method are going to be really impressed with the planning and the curriculum that our team has put into this program,” she said.

More safety

In addition to rigorous cleaning and disinfecting practices, each campus is also establishing a designated “sick room” for any child exhibiting symptoms during the school day.

“We encourage families to provide multiple contacts on file with the school secretary in the event the school needs to contact them at any point during the day,” Stilley said.

Employees recognize there is always room for improvement, she said, and she encourages families to share their suggestions and concerns by emailing to Covid Concerns@TangiSchools.org

“We are entering uncharted territory this fall, but I have no doubt that we will all work together with the same mission of creating safe learning environments for our students,” she said.


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Tickfaw man booked with murder

Dedrick Charles Labee, 61, of Tickfaw, was arrested Thursday and booked with the murder of Wayne Bourliea, 36, of Hammond, according to Sheriff Daniel Edwards.

Shot multiple times, Bourliea’s body was found Wednesday morning, lying on the floor of his place of employment, Z Equipment, in a pool of blood. The shooter had fled the scene.

Deputies immediately secured the garden and lawn equipment business on US 190 near the Hammond airport and began processing the scene.

In an investigation that lasted two days, detectives conducted interviews, pursued several leads and took Labee into custody without incident, Edwards said.

Labee is charged with first degree murder, armed robbery, and obstruction of justice, the sheriff said.

Body in Holden

New information points to foul play in the death of a man whose body was found Tuesday on James Chapel Road North in Holden. Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said the body was in poor condition due to decomposition. Authorities believe the body had been there for about a week.

Autopsy findings indicated the victim is a man in his early 40s and the cause of death was determined to be from a gun shot wound, the sheriff said.

Detectives are trying to positively identify the victim, Ard said.

Anyone with information on this case is encouraged to call 225-686-2241 extension 1 or Greater Baton Rouge Crime Stoppers at (225) 344-STOP (7867).

Best of Tangi

All the nominations are in, so now it’s time to start voting for The Daily Star’s annual Best of Tangipahoa 2020. Vote online at hammondstar.com and support your local businesses.


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Progress pends desegregation

Local school administrators have set their sights on turning the former Tangi Academy on Yokum Road into an extension of Hammond Eastside Magnet School, but the question remains if the Tangipahoa Parish’s long standing desegregation case will stand in the way of these new plans.

Attorneys returned to court for the case Thursday. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Ivan Lemelle held a video conference to hear oral arguments for pending motions related to the proposed joint final agreement he provisionally approved in February.

He heard from defendants about how their facilities plan, which includes the purchase of the Yokum Road school, related to the district’s pursuit of unitary status, as well as other updates on the district’s progress since the last hearing. Many questions remained at the end of the hearing which the judge, court appointees and plaintiffs hope will be answered by the time the case reconvenes for another hearing.

“I’m encouraged from what I’m hearing from everybody to the extent we have some open issues before the court is ready to make a decision on this,” Lemelle said.

He asked the defendants to provide more information from the demographer, CSRS and state reporting for the next hearing. He added this “information may determine the next step.”

Attending the video conference on the plaintiff’s side were attorneys Cassandra Butler, Nelson Taylor and Gideon Carter. Attending on the defendant’s side were attorney Ashley Bass and Superintendent Melissa Stilley. Court-appointed chief desegregation implementation officer Rev. Andrew Jackson and court compliance officer Donald Massey were present for the call.

The Plan

School system administrators have figured out a way to start on Phase I projects by using money from restricted funds for capital improvement projects and bonding $10-15 million through a consent agreement made possible by the district paying on debt owed for OW Dillon Leadership Academy, Bass said.

“The goal is to empty the restrictive funds on phase I projects so we have capacity to bond out funds and then will need more money as they get to Phase II,” she said.

Demographers anticipate a 21.8 percent growth projection at Hammond Eastside. To accommodate this, Hammond Eastside lower grades would move to the existing Yokum facility, which is in foreclosure, while the upper grades would remain at the school’s current location on River Road.

“Once we can purchase the school, we would take rest of this year or six to eight months to do improvements to the school before moving staff and students of the lower school to that site,” Stilley said.

In addition to the Yokum Road school purchase, phase I projects for the facilities plan also incorporate removing temporary buildings and improving older schools, including Ponchatoula High, Champ Cooper, DC Reeves, Loranger High and Kentwood High, which was the only predominantly Black school discussed.

Bass said she doesn’t think this new development would impact school ratios for students and faculty because it would be another facility to house these students for this growth that is expected. She pointed out that the school would have more room to accommodate diversity and magnet transfers.

CSRS determined an intensity of need based on the demographics report, personally visited every campus in the district and ranked them, Stilley said.

Lemelle is interested in learning more about the location of area growth and any data the demographer may have collected about the racial makeup of the people expected to move into the area. He is also interested in learning more about improving what goes on inside the brick-and-mortar schools.

More information needs to be gathered from demographers to see if they can give some methodology for how that population of growth affects Black and non-black, he said. Although the assumptions are the racial percentages may not change, most people coming to the area are affluent enough to afford a new home and most likely white.

Concerns

Court-Appointed Chief Desegregation Implementation Officer Andrew Jackson questioned how phase I would achieve unitary status or help to achieve that. There were a lot of expectations, but he wanted more details.

“How does it affect segregation?” Jackson asked. “That’s something I will be looking into and getting with attorney Massey. I think it’s something we should address.”

Plaintiff attorney Nelson Taylor, who represents the main plaintiffs as well as Tangipahoa Parish’s Black students and community members, was concerned because, to his knowledge, this area has never been an area with significant growth to the African American community.

“There are lots of things that have been said like the schools being affected by their plans does not change anything in segregation; however, to my mind, the growth they are talking about is in predominantly white areas,” Taylor said.

He believes systemic racism patterns are still alive in the schools.

“This is still a school desegregation case that has been existing since 1965, and there are reasons why we are here. There is resistance to desegregating schools in this parish,” Taylor said.

He added that he currently has an ongoing major hiring complaint about the school district hiding positions or putting people into positions without advertising for it.

“Just because [it’s] 50/50 does not mean you can reject black candidates,” Taylor said.

He would like Donald Massey, the court compliance officer, to engage with other experts outside the school system to help decide what needs to be done to fix the student intervention problem.

Twenty schools urgently need intervention, most affecting black students, Taylor said. If the state deems this a problem, then certainly this is an issue before the court, he said.

“It’s not about bricks-and-mortars of schools. It’s about what they are doing for students,” Taylor said.


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Dorothy Tremblay

When Dorothy Tremblay moved into Oak Park Village, she brought her sewing machine with her and she has been putting it to good use.

By this weekend, she will have made her 1,000th mask.

Many have gone to staff and residents. Now she is sewing masks for people in rehab centers.

She welcomes donations of 100 percent cotton material, white thread and elastic. The thread must be white. People are invited to drop off donations at the home, 17010 Old Covington Hwy., Hammond.

Known affectionately as “Mrs. Dot,” she is 93 years old.