Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Human Rights Watch spotlights Louisiana health care cuts; Study: New Orleans rents are unaffordable; (Doomed) bill to cut state contracts clears committee hurdle; and Public weighs in on budget debate. $500,000 - Amount required to help up to 150,000 Louisianans with disabilities find access to adaptive technologies that can help them work or handle activities of daily living. (Source: Louisiana Assistive Technology Network via AP)

Human Rights Watch spotlights Louisiana health care cuts
Donna Risso was the kind of person whom the state’s Medicaid program was seemingly designed for. Homeless and suffering from a series of chronic health conditions, she used New Orleans-area emergency rooms, sometimes as often as 10 times per month, as her health care safety net. That’s until her caseworkers got her signed up for “disability Medicaid,” a program that covers people during the often-lengthy wait to receive federal disability benefits. But Risso, whose story is told in a Nola.com editorial, lost her benefits on Jan. 1 due to state budget cuts, one of 9,200 struggling Louisianans who are no longer eligible for the disability program. The column by Megan McLemore of the international watchdog group Human Rights Watch said the cuts are part of a pattern that has also seen eligibility cuts for pregnant women and people with disabilities, under the theory that they could buy coverage under the new Affordable Care Act.

“But the marketplace under the Affordable Care Act was not designed for the poor, the sick or those with disabilities, since fees and deductibles on the private marketplace plans still place health insurance out of reach for many low-income people. Medicaid also covers the personal assistance, transportation, home care and other services needed by many people with disabilities, while most private plans don’t. And if an enrollment deadline is missed, that leaves people with no health insurance for a year — which is not a viable option for folks who live with chronic medical or mental health challenges.”

Study: New Orleans rents are unaffordable
The cost of rental housing is rising rapidly across the country, and the result is cities that were recently considered affordable are quickly becoming too pricey for many income earners. That’s according to the New York Times, which used data from the real estate website Zillow. Monthly rent and utilities are not supposed to take up more than 30 percent of a person’s income. But half of all renters nationwide are spending more than that — an average of 38 percent. The problem is especially acute in New Orleans, where rent consumed 14 percent of the average income in 2000 but now eats up 35 percent.

“Apartment vacancy rates have dropped so low that forecasters at Capital Economics, a research firm, said rents could rise, on average, as much as 4 percent this year, compared with 2.8 percent last year. But rents are rising faster than that in many cities even as overall inflation is running at little more than 1 percent annually.”

(Doomed) bill to cut state contracts clears committee hurdle
A legislators’ annual quest to shave the cost of state consulting contracts won easy approval from a House committee on Tuesday. But the bill, backed by state Treasurer John Kennedy, faces steep odds of getting through the Senate, where the Finance Committee has routinely killed similar legislation. As the AP reports, “This year’s proposal has a new twist. It would move any state general fund money that is saved from the contract cuts into a special fund to help pay for public colleges, which have been hit by repeated budget cuts over the last six years.”

Louisiana has cut state support for higher education by more than any other states the past five years, killing more than 6,500 jobs – including 1,000 faculty positions – in the process.

Public weighs in on budget debate
This was the week when the general public got its chance to weigh in on the $25 billion state budget, which has spent the last month undergoing review by the House Appropriations Committee before being amended next week. Those asking for more money included hospitals, advocates for people with disabilities and the mothers of two girls who were killed in traffic accidents that might have been prevented with cable median barriers. But in a state where there isn’t enough money to protect abused and neglected children, the chairman of the committee warned that funding might not be forthcoming. “We’re still struggling. We’re not over the hump yet,”  Chairman Jim Fannin told those gathered in the committee room.

$500,000 - Amount required to help up to 150,000 Louisianans with disabilities find access to adaptive technologies that can help them work or handle activities of daily living. (Source: Louisiana Assistive Technology Network via AP)