Wednesday, June 25

Wednesday, June 25

Family leave policies get presidential boost; the South lags the country in covering low-wage workers; WISE fund dollars come with strings; A guide to stronger state economies

Family leave policies get a presidential boost
President Barack Obama has directed the federal government to expand access to flexible time for workers, as part of a new push for policies that make it easier for families to raise young children. The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, and in 31 states the cost of child care exceeds the cost of in-state tuition at a local college or university.

Family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs,” Obama said. “They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society. ”

Obama has proposed $5 million to support state-level initiatives such as those currently available in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, which are the only states that currently offer paid leave. The benefits are available to both public and private sector employees and are funded through an employee-paid tax.

The South lags the country in covering low-wage workers
From the invaluable Kaiser Family Foundation comes a new info-graphic that shows the consequence of the decision by most Southern states to reject Medicaid expansion. Some highlights from the graphic, which was produced in conjunction with the Journal of the American Medical Association: Southerners make up 37 percent of the U.S. population and are the most likely (21 percent) to be uninsured. All but three Southern states have poverty rates above the national average. Most importantly, there are 3.8 million adults in those states that could be covered by health insurance if their governors would take advantage of the opportunity made available by the Affordable Care Act.

WISE Fund dollars come with strings
Only $17 million of the $40 million in the new Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund comes from the state general fund, which is complicating the efforts to divide that money between the state’s colleges and universities. As the Associated Press reports, the rest of the money is coming from the state’s construction budget and leftover hurricane recovery money, which means there are serious strings attached.

“A council set up to make recommendations for spending the money, which held its first meeting Tuesday, zeroed in on the restrictions surrounding the final slice of money put into the WISE Fund: more than $12 million in federal recovery dollars for hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The disaster response money only can be spent in certain parishes, needs federal approval and must be tracked to show it was spent properly. At least 51 percent of the recovery money must be spent to help low- to moderate-income people.

“It is very much a balancing act,” Barbara Goodson, the top financial adviser to the Board of Regents, told the council.”

The WISE fund was a highlight of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative package in the just-concluded lawmaking session, and was meant to address five years of drastic cuts that have drained millions of dollars from college campuses and killed thousands of jobs.

Poor ranking for Louisiana unemployment benefits
The Baton Rouge Business Report, summarizing a report by the financial news website 24/7 Wall St., reveals that Louisiana is one of the worst states in which to be unemployed.Louisiana is one of the least generous states as far as unemployment insurance is concerned, offering out-of-job workers an average of $208 a week in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014, less than all but two other states.”

A guide to stronger state economies
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released an updated Guide to State Fiscal Policies for a Stronger Economy. Key recommendations include targeting economy-boosting investments like education, transportation, and health care; improving fiscal planning by determining the resources needed to sustain, beyond any one budget year, investments critical to economic growth; and helping struggling families with greater investments in programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credits.

Another key recommendation, which should ring true for anyone paying attention to Louisiana’s budget debates: “Avoid ineffective strategies and gimmicks.  Several states have enacted or considered deep income tax cuts in the name of promoting economic growth.  But these tax cuts typically provide the largest benefits to high-income people, while doing little to nothing for everyone else.”


Number of the day

$208: The average weekly unemployment insurance benefit for Louisiana out-of-job workers in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014. Source: The Baton Rouge Business Report