Task force recommends higher TOPS standards, more need-based funding
A blue-ribbon task force is recommending that eligibility standards for the TOPS college scholarship program be raised and that more money be allocated for need-based college scholarships. The recommendations came from the Tuition Task Force, which was established by a 2013 resolution authored by Rep. Stephen Ortego to review tuition issues in higher education. The task force also recommended that colleges be given more freedom to set tuition, and students be charged tuition on a per-credit basis. Louisiana’s TOPS program is one of the most generous in the country, offering full in-state tuition to any high school graduate who scores at least a 2.5 GPA in core subjects and scores at or above the state average on the ACT college aptitude test. Louisiana’s GO-Grant program, which provides need-based aid to students from low-income backgrounds, is one of the least generous of its kind.
State officials stay tax amnesty collections on track
With one week left before the latest tax amnesty program expires, Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield told The Associated Press he’s confident the state will collect the $200 million it anticipated. But he refused to say how much money has been collected to date. The amnesty program allows individuals and businesses to pay delinquent tax bills without penalties and half the interest charges. Barfield said his department has identified 443,000 taxpayers that owe $1.4 billion in unpaid taxes. Another 3,000 businesses or people that owe $1.1 billion are involved in audits or litigation with the Department of Revenue. Money from the amnesty program has already been plugged into the state operating budget, so any collection shortfalls could mean mid-year budget cuts.
Louisiana Healthcare.gov enrollment low
Ongoing issues with the federal health care website have lead to low enrollment numbers during the first month of its operation. Slightly more than 106,000 Americans, including only 387 Louisianans, have successfully enrolled in health insurance plans on the Healthcare.gov website, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite these dismal numbers, there are some silver linings from yesterday’s release. Washington D.C. and the 15 states that opted to run their own websites fared better than the federal government, reporting more than 79,000 sign-ups. In addition, federal Medicaid expansion is working exceptionally well in the states that opted to expand eligibility to those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for a single person or $32,499 for a family of four.
Louisiana housing values increased, homeownership rates decreased
Home values in Louisiana have increased since the Great Recession, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The median home was worth $138,800 during the 2010-2012 period, up from $131,800 in 2007-2009. But homeownership rates in Louisiana dipped slightly over the same time frame, to 66.72 percent in 2010-2012 from 67.98 percent in 2007-2009. Other notable statistics include increases in median gross rent ($760 in 2010-2012 vs. $745 in 2007-2009) and decreases in owner-occupied homes with mortgages (55.4 percent in 2010-2012 vs. 57 percent in 2007-2009).