Budget boost for developmentally disabled needs federal approval
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is proposing to use federal hurricane-recovery dollars to pay for a boost in home-care services for the developmentally disabled. As a result, the proposed $26 million increase – which would bring 2,500 people off a state waiting list – will require approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Advocates and lawmakers alike are worried that the administration does not have a Plan B in case the funding is denied. Lawmakers are also concerned that it amounts to using one-time money to pay for recurring expenses — a practice the administration claims to have ended in the FY 2015 budget plan.
Louisiana lawmakers spend campaign dollars on wedding presents, Saints tickets
State laws that govern how politicians can spend their campaign donations are vague. As a result many candidates have billed their donors for expensive meals, golf outings, Saints tickets and other expenses that appear to have little to do with waging a race for public office. As Nola.com and WVUE Fox 8 News report, [our investigation] found that Louisiana politicians as a group spent millions of dollars on expensive meals; tickets to Saints, LSU and then-Hornets games; rounds of golf; and other perks. Some items charged to political campaigns would seem to stretch the idea of what is used for campaigning or holding public office, including anniversary gifts, gym dues and a liability insurance policy. On one occasion, a politician used campaign money to pay more than $500 at a Hooters restaurant in Alabama while apparently attending a wedding.
Financial security remains a problem for many Louisiana households
Too many Louisiana families are unable to look beyond their immediate financial needs and prepare for the future. Roughly half of Louisiana households live in “liquid asset poverty” — meaning they have less than three months worth of income in their savings account. This stops many from saving for retirement, investing in a home or planning for college. Louisianans also struggle with subprime credit, and roughly 31 percent of jobs in the Pelican State are low-wage jobs. These and other factors resulted in Louisiana placing 44th in financial security outcomes on the 2014 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. Lawmakers can improve the state’s ranking by shrinking the current income gap between the wealthiest and poorest; establishing a minimum wage above the federal level and indexing it to inflation; and expanding Medicaid coverage to those earning at least 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Nearly four-in-five fourth graders read below proficient levels
A child’s reading proficiency is one of the most significant factors influencing his or her future success. In fact, children who read proficiently by fourth grade are more likely to graduate from high school and get a good paying job. A new study by the Annie E Casey Foundation shows that Louisiana has a long way to go to ensure all of its children receive a sound education. According to the study, 77 percent of the state’s fourth graders read below proficient levels — slightly down from the 80 percent a decade ago. In addition, 85 percent of children from low-income families read below proficiency levels, versus 58 percent of children from high-income families. Improving these rates requires advocacy on many fronts, such as helping families remain economically stable and funding high-quality childcare programs.
Wintry weather costs state $5 million
The state’s response to this week’s blast of artic weather costs Louisiana taxpayers roughly $5.2 million, according to estimates from the Division of Administration. The expenditures included equipment, supplies, travel and personnel that were used to deice roadways and assist with accident response. The Division of Administration said it would help agencies absorb the unexpected budget expenses.
New inmate substance abuse treatment program saving $5 million less than expected
An entry release program for nonviolent first and second time drug offenders is producing $5 million less in savings than originally anticipated, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. Originally lawmakers were told that the program, which diverts offenders to a substance abuse treatment program instead of being sentenced to prison, would serve 527 offenders and generate $6.1 million in savings. But many qualified offenders are already participate in other programs — including transitional work programs and certified treatment rehabilitation programs. As a result, only 165 offenders will participate in the program by June 2014, generating only $800,000 in savings.
New “Inequality for All” screening date: Feb 6
LBP invites you to attend a free screening of the film “Inequality for All” on Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Baton Rouge Kress Gallery (447 3rd St., Baton Rouge). The film (you can view the trailer here) is narrated by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and discusses how the massive consolidation of wealth by a few has a devastating impact on our economy and on the foundation of American democracy itself. With the 2014 legislative session fast approaching, this is a unique opportunity to discuss solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Light refreshments will be served at 5 p.m., and the film will start promptly at 5:30 p.m., followed by a post-screening Q&A. Seating is limited and available on a first come first serve basis. Please RSVP here so we can provide an adequate amount of refreshments. Note that an RSVP does not ensure a seat at the event.