Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Advocate looks at the “debt trap” of payday lending; Deadline looms for signing up for health insurance; Lots of demand for limited slots in prison re-entry program; and Dardenne draws fresh attention to Medicaid expansion. 9.3 — Percent, of those eligible in Louisiana, who signed up for health coverage through the federal insurance marketplace between October and February. (Source: The Advocate)

The Advocate looks at the “debt trap” of payday lending
If you’re wondering why the Legislature needs to cap the interest rates that payday lenders can charge, look no farther than the story of Thelma Fleming. As she told The Advocate, a $300 loan she took out two years ago to help with bills turned into a $2,500 nightmare when she could not repay the initial loan and found herself returning again and again for more loans and additional fees.

“If I have a bill, I pay the bill. The problem was that I just couldn’t get caught up,” she said. “Sometimes you just find yourself in a desperate spot and you do desperate things. I made those choices, and they were bad decisions. But if you have a family, you do what you have to do to keep things rolling.”

The paper cites research by LBP (attributed to Together Louisiana) that 57,000 Louisianans take out payday loans each year, and that payday loans figure in 20 percent of bankruptcy filings in the Baton Rouge area. It also notes that the industry is gearing up to fight this attempt at regulation. As John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford reported in LaPolitics Weekly, the industry has hired more than three dozen lobbyists to help plead its case to legislators.

Deadline looms for signing up for health insurance
Louisiana has a high rate of uninsured residents, but few of them are signing up for coverage through the new federal insurance marketplace, The Advocate reported in its Sunday editions.

Only 45,560 state residents have signed up for coverage through the end of February, or fewer than 10 percent of those eligible. Some areas of the state are doing better than others in getting people connected with affordable coverage.

“Louisiana ranks 39th among all states in terms of the percentage of people enrolled. Of those who did sign up, 17,000 — or more than a third — were in New Orleans and Metairie, which had a goal of enrolling 23,000 residents by March 31. That puts the New Orleans area at roughly 74 percent of its goal, compared with 61 percent for the state as a whole.”

Lots of demand for limited slots in prison re-entry program
Almost lost in the shuffle last week was this story from Nola.com about legislation to expand a prison “Re-entry Court” program. In the program, offenders with relatively short sentences are sent to Angola, where they are taught job skills such as welding or auto repair by inmates who are serving life sentences. The program has about 120 slots and serves offenders from Orleans, St. Tammany and East Baton Rouge parishes. The bills on the docket would have added Lafayette, Bossier and Jefferson parishes, but when members of the House Judiciary Committee got wind of the program’s success they wanted in on the action. The trouble is, there are only a handful of current vacancies, so making more parishes eligible might not lead to more job-training opportunities.

What the episode should tell legislators is that there is a crying need for programs that teach vocational skills to inmates, roughly 15,000 of whom are released in Louisiana each year. It also should serve as a cautionary tale to conservatives who view sentencing reform as an opportunity to save money. In fact, Louisiana currently pays some of the lowest per-diems in the country to house state inmates in local jails, which means few re-entry programs for the nonviolent drug offenders who make up the bulk of parish-level inmates. That needs to change if Louisiana ever hopes to reduce its recidivism rates and end its sordid status as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Dardenne draws fresh attention to Medicaid expansion
It’s unclear how much MoveOn.org paid to have a billboard erected along Interstate 10 that chastises Gov. Bobby Jindal for refusing to cover 242,000 low-income Louisianans using federal Medicaid dollars. But it’s quite clear that the liberal group has gotten far more than its money’s worth thanks to the effort of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who continues to provide abundant free publicity by filing a copyright infringement suit. Dardenne’s latest gambit is an op-ed on Nola.com, where he explains why the MoveOn billboard illegally infringes on the state’s “Pick Your Passion” marketing slogan. The typeface, color scheme and use of an exclamation point instead of an “I” in the word “Louisiana” in the MoveOn.org ad all replicate our protected brand,” Dardenne writes. “The photo of a platter of crawfish is lifted directly from our website. We believe that using the brand without permission violates both federal and state trademark law.”

9.3 — Percent, of those eligible in Louisiana, who signed up for health coverage through the federal insurance marketplace between October and February. (Source: The Advocate)