Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Overtime threshold could get a raise; Food insecurity remains high; College leaders still fear budget cuts and; More affordable housing for New Orleans

Overtime threshold could get a raise

President Obama’s plan to raise the threshold below which salaried workers qualify for overtime pay from $23,660 a year to $50,400 a year is sparking opposition from the business community. Business owners claim it will be hard to track their employees’ work hours, and call the protections a “counterproductive effort to raise wages without regard to market forces”.  The Baton Rouge Business Report has more:


Dawn Starns, who directs the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses… says her members worry about possible changes to the “duties test,” which decides whether a worker primarily performs executive, administrative or professional functions and therefore can be exempt from overtime rules….The White House says that, under the current system, a convenience store manager may be expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week while never seeing a dime of overtime. Critics of the status quo say employers can put, for example, fast food shift supervisors on salary to avoid having to pay them time-and-a-half, even if most of their duties are the same as the workers they purportedly oversee.


But as the Economic Policy Institute notes, the current threshold to qualify for overtime is far too low– below the federal poverty line for a family of four–and hasn’t been raised in 10 years. Raising it simply restores protections for people who sometimes work more than 40 hours a week, which according to EPI’s analysis includes 225,000 salaried workers in Louisiana:


FLSA overtime rules were established to make sure that all but higher-level workers with control over their time or tasks aren’t working overtime but not getting paid for it. Unfortunately, rule changes in 2004 regarding the “duties tests” used to determine who does relatively high-level work made it a lot easier to deprive many lower-level workers of overtime protection by tweaking their job descriptions. Employer willingness to push the limits of the law have resulted in widespread noncompliance and misclassification. Raising the threshold would return overtime protection to the employees who need it by preempting these malleable duties tests for the workers under the new threshold.


Food insecurity remains high

While the number of American households experiencing “food insecurity” remains above pre-recession levels. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show 48.1 million people–about 14 percent of the population–were “food insecure” in 2014 and 15 million children lived in food-insecure households:


The new figures show that millions of Americans are struggling, despite signs that the economic recovery is reaching more households.  Wage growth remains slow.  Food banks are seeing increased demand this year and expect to distribute more food in 2015 than in 2014 or 2013, the Associated Press reported recently. Given that food insecurity remains high, it’s no surprise that participation in SNAP — which helps millions of Americans afford adequate food — is also above pre-recession levels, though it’s fallen over the last two years.  SNAP expands during economic downturns as more people become eligible and then contracts as the economy strengthens. Food insecurity will likely rise significantly in 2016 among able-bodied adults without dependents, roughly 1 million of whom risk losing SNAP as a time limit now waived due to high unemployment returns in most states.  These individuals will lose benefits after three months if they aren’t working 20 hours a week or participating in a work program, even if they are looking for work.  The loss of this crucial food assistance will likely make it harder for many of these individuals — many of whom are extremely poor and receive little if any other assistance — to afford food.


Here in Louisiana, food insecurity is even worse–and rising. Data, averaged over three years, shows 17.6 percent of Louisianans were lacked food security in 2012-14, a huge increase from the 11.8 percent who were food insecure a decade ago.


College leaders still fear budget cuts

Higher education managed to avoid massive budget cuts last session as funding remained on par with the previous year. But leaders are worried that low oil prices will hurt state revenues. Constitutional protections for everything but universities and health care mean that they will be the first on the chopping block–as always–if revenues projections are not realized. The Reveille’s Sam Karlin has more:


Higher education evaded devastating cuts estimated at $600 million during the summer’s legislative session, and LSU President F. King Alexander said Aug. 20 that university system heads will meet every week this semester to discuss funding strategies and the gubernatorial candidates’ platforms regarding higher education. “We’re hanging out there on a ledge,” Alexander said. “And we want to make sure we work with our legislative leaders to understand that we have already been cut dramatically to the point where we are.” A web of forecasting steps are necessary for an accurate budget prediction, said Board of Regents Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Administration Barbara Goodson…She said Louisiana’s higher education institutions, as well as grade schools, currently are not fully funded, and higher education is particularly in need of money for deferred maintenance.


More affordable housing for New Orleans

New Orleanians searching for affordable housing as rents continue to rise in many neighborhoods now have something to celebrate. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has signed an affordable housing ordinance that clears the way for developers to produce more rental units as long as a portion of them are set aside for families with lower incomes. Richard Webster with has the story:


The new law, first introduced by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and passed by the council Sept. 3, is part of an overall strategy to create more affordable housing across the city…Under the new law, developers will be allowed to construct apartment buildings on lots up to 30 percent smaller than previously, as long as the projects include affordable units for people making less than a certain percentage of the area median income.


Number of the Day

17.6 percent – Share of Louisianans in food insecure households from 2012-2014 (Source: USDA)