Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poverty remains entrenched in 2013; Editorial: Need to fund early childhood education; Community hospitals struggle to pay for uninsured care; and Search for higher ed. chief narrows

Poverty remains entrenched in 2013

Despite an increase in the number of jobs and median income in 2013, the share of Louisianans in poverty remained high. Nearly one in five Louisianans, almost 890,000 people, lived below the poverty line last year, according to a new blog post by LBP’s David Gray. That is about the same number as in 2012. U.S. Census Bureau data also shows wide economic gaps continued to grow along racial lines.

Louisiana had the third-highest poverty rate last year, behind only Mississippi and New Mexico, and the fourth-highest child poverty rate. More than one in four children (27.7 percent) lived in households with income below the poverty line ($11,670 for a single person and $23,850 for a family of four). Regional differences were also apparent in yesterday’s data, with south Louisiana—particularly the Houma-Thibodaux and Lake Charles areas—faring far better than central and north Louisiana.

Fortunately, there are steps that policymakers can take to combat poverty and expand opportunities, including strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working families, enhancing Louisiana’s Go Grant Program to make higher education more affordable for low-income students and investing in early childhood education.

Editorial: Need to fund early childhood education

Half of all Louisiana children show up to kindergarten lacking basic literacy skills. To close this “education gap” the Legislature passed Act 3 in 2012 to overhaul and improve standards for early childhood education. As part of the new law, the Department of Education, instead of the Department of Child and Family Services, will now take the lead in licensing preschools. Schools that get public funding will be graded and enrollment will be streamlined. There will be renewed emphasis on teacher training. Education superintendent John White said the goal is “a unified system that will allow greater access, greater equity and greater child development.”

According to Times-Picayune editorial board, “All that sounds good. The big question is how to pay for everything that is needed to carry out those plans.” Unfortunately, the editorial notes that per child spending on early childhood education in Louisiana has been declining in recent years: “That is where lawmakers come in. If the state is serious about improving and expanding preschool — and it must be — the Legislature has to make it a budget priority.”

Community hospitals struggle to pay for uninsured care

In the wake of the near-closure of the emergency room at Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City location (incidentally, the closest hospital to the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion), the Advocate’s Marsha Shuler takes stock of the challenge facing hospitals when it comes to serving the uninsured. The obvious solution to easing the burden on hospitals is to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor, yet as Shuler notes: “Jindal has consistently and vigorously opposed Medicaid expansion to provide insurance to about 250,000 of Louisiana’s uninsured. When Jindal talked about the General’s situation, not once did he mention the role uninsured patients played.”

While the administration continues to claim that public-private partnerships are the solution, non-partner hospitals may disagree, Shuler writes: “The General’s crisis underscored a problem facing other hospitals operating in communities — hospitals without the partnership agreements and their guaranteed reimbursement for uninsured care. ’These nonpartnership hospitals in those communities are clearly getting slammed,’ said state Sen. Sherri Buffington, a Keithville Republican who follows health care issues.”

Search for higher ed. chief narrows

The Louisiana Board of Regents is considering four finalists for the position of Commissioner of Higher Education, reports the Times-Picayune, which has brief bios for three of the four finalists who have been named. The most recent Commissioner, Jim Purcell, frequently clashed with the Jindal administration over budget cuts to Louisiana’s colleges and universities.


890,000—The number of Louisianans who lived in poverty in 2013, nearly one in five people (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)