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New Census data reveal concerning trends

Posted on September 14, 2018

An alarmingly high percentage of Louisiana families continue to face serious economic challenges, with almost 1 in 5 Louisianans living below the poverty line in 2017, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data. Even worse, Louisiana had the highest rate of child poverty in the nation last year, at 28 percent. LBP’s Jeanie Donovan and Neva Butkus report on those and handful of other key trends in their analysis of the new Census data.

The Census data serve as a reminder that it’s long past time for state lawmakers to make the investments needed to reduce barriers and increase economic opportunity for families mired in poverty. But it doesn’t have to be this way forever:

In Louisiana, policymakers have tools at their disposal that can help remove barriers to economic opportunity and help more families reach the middle class and beyond. For example, establishing a statewide minimum wage above the federal minimum would disproportionately increase the incomes of female workers and workers of color. Increased state investments in need-based financial aid would help to ensure the high proportion of African American children who grow up in poverty have an opportunity to attend college. Continuing to invest in the state Earned Income Tax Credit and ensuring access to safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid helps to keep working poor families from slipping below the poverty line and into deep poverty.

 

A pro-ACA lawsuit emerges
The state of Maryland is fighting back against attempts by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and others to topple the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and wipe out the legal protections it contains for people with pre-existing medical conditions. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed suit on behalf of Marylanders who would be harmed if the ACA is undermined – which would have repercussions for Louisianians if it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. Colby Itkowitz with The Washington Post reports:

The action by Maryland’s Democratic attorney is, in essence, a mirror to a legal challenge to the law by the Republican attorney general of Texas and GOP counterparts. The Texas case aiming to kill the ACA is brought by Republicans and is before a conservative judge. The Maryland case to save the law is brought by a Democratic attorney general before a more liberal court where most of the active judges are appointees of President Barack Obama.  Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed the lawsuit in District Court Thursday, contending that if the ACA ceased to exist it would hurt state residents who have gained insurance under the law, the state’s health-care system and public finances.

 

Federal safety net keeps millions out of poverty
Each year the U.S. Census Bureau calculates a set of statistics using the “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) which adjusts households’ reported income for things like taxes paid and benefits received through federal anti-poverty programs. This presents a more complete picture of how families are faring than the official poverty measure, which counts only cash income. The new figures based on the SPM were released on Wednesday, and Arloc Sherman with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities breaks them down:

  • SNAP lifted 3.4 million people above the SPM poverty line ($27,005 for a typical two-adult, two-child renter family).
  • Two tax credits for low- and moderate-income working families — the EITC and the low-income portion of the Child Tax Credit — together lifted 8.3 million people out of poverty, including 4.5 million children.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which assists low-income seniors and people with disabilities, lifted 3.2 million people out of poverty.
  • Rent subsidies lifted 2.9 million people out of poverty.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and state General Assistance programs lifted 544,000 people out of poverty.

 

Despite the effectiveness of the federal anti-poverty programs, they are threatened in the Trump administration and House budget proposals. Sherman continues:

These programs also reduced the severity of poverty for tens of millions of others by lifting them closer to the poverty line. Yet both the President’s 2019 budget and the budget plan that the House Budget Committee adopted on a party-line vote on June 21 would deeply cut nutrition assistance through SNAP and income assistance programs such as TANF and SSI. The President’s budget would cut SNAP, where benefits now average only $1.40 per person per meal, by about 30 percent. It would also cut housing assistance, partly by significantly raising rents on the very poorest families.

 

Federal opioid legislation could bring some relief
The opioid epidemic is impacting families and driving up the number drug-related death across the country. The widespread harm caused by the increased sale and use of opiates has spurred Congress into action, with the Senate is poised to pass the Opioid Crisis Review Act next week. The House already passed its version of the bill earlier this summer. Rachel Nuzum with The Commonwealth Institute gives a rundown of what’s in the legislation:

To support the state response, the bill provides $500 million a year through 2021 to reauthorize and build on a state-targeted grant program created under the 21st Century Cures Act. The Cures Act funding has been used by states to expand methadone treatment, provide medication-assisted treatment in criminal justice settings, connect individuals to community-based treatment, support an opioid crisis helpline, and expand the availability of naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdoses.

The House bill also includes some tweaks to the federal Medicaid statute to increase the program’s ability to address the crisis:

The legislation does make some changes to how Medicaid resources can be used to combat the epidemic. One key provision included in the House bill, passed in June (but not in the Senate bill), is lifting the exclusion for the institutions for mental disease (IMD), which has historically prohibited states from using federal Medicaid dollars to pay for mental health treatment in a facility with more than 16 inpatient beds. The policy was originally constructed in an attempt to move treatment away from psychiatric hospital wards. More recently, experts have raised questions about the impact this policy is having on adult Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to inpatient mental health services.

 

Number of the Day
$2,240 – The amount the inflation-adjusted median household income in Louisiana has decreased between 2007 and 2017. (Source: LBP via the U.S. Census Bureau)

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