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Census data show poverty gap getting wider

Posted on September 15, 2017

The poverty rate declined and median incomes rose in the United States last year. Not so in Louisiana, according to U.S. Census data published Thursday. Louisiana’s poverty rate of 20.2 percent is statistically unchanged from 2015, as is the state median income in a year when the national median climbed 2.4 percent. Notably, the 2016 Census data also showed how millions of Americans are lifted above the poverty line by critical safety net programs including the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and housing subsidies. LBP senior policy analysts Nick Albares and Jeanie Donovan dig through the data to identify six key trends.

 

Louisiana Navigators’ budget slashed

Finding the right health insurance plan can be a complicated and confusing process, and the Affordable Care Act included substantial funding for state and local non-profits to help people navigate the enrollment process. The Trump Administration announced a major cut to the budget for enrollment assistance at the end of August, but the reductions were not applied evenly across states and organizations.  This week, Brian Burton, director of Navigators for a Healthy Louisiana, learned that he will have to lay off the majority of his staff and end services for hundreds of thousands of Louisianans. Vox’s Sarah Kliff reports:

Louisiana is one of the states experiencing the most drastic budget cuts. Its overall funding for in-person assistance goes to two nonprofits and will fall from $1.47 million this year to $307,349 for next year. Family Road of Greater Baton Rouge in Louisiana will have its budget reduced 98 percent, the largest reduction in the entire country. The other enrollment group there, Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, will have its budget decline 72 percent. Burton, its director, has laid off 11 staff members and says they will no longer provide enrollment support in many Louisiana cities, including Shreveport, which has a population of nearly 200,000.

 

Assistance needed for non-traditional students

The TOPS scholarship program gets a lot of attention in the Legislature and the media, but “non-traditional” Louisiana students – those who don’t go straight from high school to a 4-year university – aren’t typically eligible. The state does have a need-based scholarship program call Go Grants, but it is chronically underfunded, leaving many adult learners without any financial assistance. The Times Picayune/Nola.com editorial board urges legislators on the new TOPS task force to make these students a priority:

Many two-year students have a harder time financially than students who go to four-year institutions, [Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System] said. They have full-time jobs and might be single parents, he said. Asking for more resources for these students makes sense. Roughly 600,000 Louisianians in the job market have no more than a high school diploma, which means they aren’t likely to be qualified for highly skilled jobs. Helping more of them pay for community or technical college could give their families and the state as a whole an economic boost … It would take creativity to find a way to do it, but a modest increase in the budget for Go Grants could make a big difference for students in need.

 

Sabotaging the ACA

Insurance companies hate uncertainty and risk, and that is precisely what they’re dealing with when it comes to the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplaces. President Donald Trump is deciding on a month-to-month basis whether the federal government will make good on its promise to pay insurers for “cost-sharing subsidies” that help low-income marketplace enrollees. Members of Congress like Louisiana’s Sen. Bill Cassidy continue to push legislation to dismantle the ACA entirely. Vox’s Sarah Kliff shares the findings of a report released by the Congressional Budget Office:

The nonpartisan office estimates that average premiums in the health law marketplaces will be 15 percent higher next year “largely because of short-term market uncertainty — in particular, insurers’ uncertainty about whether federal funding for certain subsidies that are currently available will continue to be provided.” The CBO also estimates that there will be less competition in the marketplaces next year, which it also attributes to the uncertain federal environment surrounding the health law’s future … The CBO also points to “announced reductions in federal advertising, outreach, and other enrollment efforts” as additional factors that will make Obamacare sign-ups smaller next year than they otherwise would have been.

 

Number of the Day

48.9 – Percent of African-American children in Louisiana who fell below the poverty line in 2016 compared to 14.9 percent of white children. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey)

 

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