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Sept 29: Struggling for childcare in Louisiana

Posted on September 29, 2016

Thousands of Louisiana families that are eligible for childcare assistance are not getting the help they need to send their children to school and provide for their families. The Atlantic’s Della Hasselle reports that only 30 percent of  financially at-risk families receive aid, and Louisiana is among the worst in the nation at taking care of its low-income kids younger than 4.

 

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 27 percent of children in Louisiana lived below the poverty level in 2014. That means a family of four with two children survived on $24,008, the income level at which a family is considered to be extremely poor by the federal government…According to a 2015 report by the advocacy non-profit Child Care Aware, the average cost of center-based infant care in Louisiana—one of the four poorest states in the nation—was roughly $110 a week in 2014. Although this average cost is among the lowest in the country, it is still an amount experts say is difficult for middle-class parents to pay, much less those with lower incomes. In New Orleans, some of the best early education centers cost as much as $275 a week.

 

Melanie Bronfin of the Louisiana Policy Institute says the state needs to invest  its own dollars; Louisiana is slated to spend less than half of 1 percent of state general funds on early childcare and education this year. Lawmakers say the money simply isn’t there, but experts point to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds as a possible solution.

 

When the federal government overhauled America’s welfare system 20 years ago, TANF replaced the former cash-assistance program. The idea was to help the poor achieve self-sufficiency through work by allowing states to come up with innovative ways to provide assistance—including help with childcare—that did not foster a “culture of dependency.” The law allows states to spend TANF money directly on childcare assistance or subsidize early education by transferring up to 30 percent of the funds to the Child Care and Development Block Grant. But that’s not exactly what happened in Louisiana. Over the past two decades, the Pelican State has “steadily diverted money” intended for struggling families, according to a report released last month by the Louisiana Budget Project (LBP). In the report, “TANF at 20: Failing Louisiana’s Poor,” the LBP’s Grace Reinke charged that Louisiana took block-grant dollars and used them as a “slush fund” to plug holes in the state budget created by tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthy. Last year, only 11 percent of block grant spending in Louisiana was put toward core tenets of welfare reform—cash assistance, childcare subsidies, and programs to help the needy join the workforce. The average state, by comparison, spends half its welfare dollars on those goals, according to the LBP report. Moreover, in Louisiana, 2 percent was put toward childcare in 2015, down from 34 percent in 2000.

 

 

Sales tax holidays losing popularity

Many states, including Louisiana, have scaled back on their sales tax holiday programs in the face of budget deficits. Experts say the tax break doesn’t have any real economic benefit, doesn’t do much to help low-income families and hurts state revenues. Elaine S. Povich of Pew’s Stateline blog has the details.

 

If governors and legislatures really want to make a difference for taxpayers, (the Tax Foundation’s Scott) Drenkard said, they should implement “365-days-a-year” tax changes. The Tax Foundation and other opponents say the holidays don’t help retailers because buyers simply “shift” purchases they were going to make any way. They don’t help lower-income people much either, according to the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). “Wealthier taxpayers are often best-positioned to benefit from the holidays since they have more flexibility to shift the timing of their purchases to take advantage of the tax break — an option that isn’t available to families living paycheck to paycheck,” the ITEP said in a policy paper last month…The holidays do cost state and local treasuries money — more than $300 million this year, the ITEP estimates.

 

Good news for grandpa

A rule  issued by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will deliver greater legal protections for nursing home residents. It promises to end the practice of forcing claims of elder abuse, sexual harassment and wrongful death into private arbitration instead of using the courts. It will be applied to any nursing home that receives federal funding and offer major new protections for 1.5 million residents. Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery of the New York Times have the story.

Clauses embedded in the fine print of nursing home admissions contracts have pushed disputes about safety and the quality of care out of public view. The system has helped the nursing home industry reduce its legal costs, but it has stymied the families of nursing home residents from getting justice, even in the case of murder…“The sad reality is that today too many Americans must choose between forfeiting their legal rights and getting adequate medical care,” Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, said in a statement on Wednesday. The nursing home industry reacted strongly against the change. Mark Parkinson, the president and chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a trade group, said in a statement on Wednesday that the change on arbitration “clearly exceeds” the agency’s statutory authority and was “wholly unnecessary to protect residents’ health and safety…”With its decision, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency under Health and Human Services, has restored a fundamental right of millions of elderly Americans across the country: their day in court. It is the most significant overhaul of the agency’s rules governing federal funding of long-term care facilities in more than two decades.

Changes for schools

The State Department of Education recommended changes to how public schools are rated, a move toward less testing and new assistance for struggling students. The changes are aimed at complying with the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The Advocate’s Will Sentell has the story.

 

Under current rules, tests results account for most of the score and letter grades that go with them. The change would require that 25 percent of the score be based on the annual growth of students’ in key academic skills, regardless of their performance. The new review would replace the controversial bonus points in effect now, which bolster school scores based on gains by low-achieving students. Critics say the rewards make schools look better than they are… In another area, the White plan would limit end-of-year state testing to no more than one week per student, and never exceed 2 percent of instructional minutes in a school year…In a third area, the plan calls for new help for struggling students and schools…Under the plan, the state would launch a series of screening tests in early grades to check for dyslexia and disabilities. Teachers would get curricula supplements to help students struggling in math and English, among other steps.

 

Number of the Day:
39,000- The number of at-risk families with 1-year-olds in Louisiana last year who did not receive childcare assistance (Source: Louisiana Department of Education via The Atlantic)

 

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