Louisiana finished in the red
State government spent more money than it took in last year, which will likely make midyear budget cuts even more painful than anticipated. Additionally, analysts says Medicaid and the TOPS scholarship program are significantly underfunded and the price of oil is below what was expected earlier this year when the budget was written, leaving conservative estimates at $100 million in necessary budget cuts, Julia O’Donoghue of Nola.com reports:
An estimate for the shortfall from the last fiscal year won’t be released until October, but several lawmakers and state officials described it as “significant” in interviews. Legislative staff who were not authorized to speak on the record said it is likely to be more than $50 million. The money will have to be made up in the state’s current fiscal cycle, which ends next June. “There will be a shortfall. Any shortfall will be sizable now,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, head of the budget committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Higher education usually bears the brunt of midyear cuts, because legal protections make it difficult to reduce other types of state spending. “I’m worried. I’m really worried,” said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge, who sits on the state Senate Finance Committee. Mills said he expected non-mandatory Medicaid services to be slashed as well as funding for Louisiana colleges and universities. In August, the state already began whacking at higher education, when it implemented $4.6 million worth of reductions to state spending.
A decades-old Supreme Court case declared it unconstitutional to jail someone for being poor. Yet, that is exactly what happens to people all over Louisiana every single day. Marjorie Esman of the American Civil Liberties Union writes in an Advocate guest column:
To some, $500 is the price of an evening out — dinner at a fine restaurant, tickets to a concert or a Saints game. To others, it could be a month’s rent. For someone making minimum wage, it’s almost two weeks’ pay before taxes. What for one person is a minor inconvenience can be literally impossible for someone else — resulting in incarceration simply for lack of funds. This practice is not only illegal, it makes no sense. Taxpayer funds aren’t well-spent jailing minor offenders who simply lack money. Courts can, and by law must, investigate why someone doesn’t pay and, whenever possible, find alternatives such as community service. Surely, we’d all be better off if someone is given the chance to work on behalf of the community rather than languish in the local jail at a cost of upwards of $21 per day. And consider the collateral consequences of going to jail: loss of income, perhaps loss of housing, disruption of family relationships. There’s the pregnant single mother of three jailed for an unpaid fine who used rent money to get out, thereby putting her children at risk of homelessness.
The Louisiana ACLU recently put out a report on the issue and has filed a federal class-action lawsuit to end the practice of “debtors’ prisons.”
Momentum builds for Medicaid expansion
The Council for a Better Louisiana is the latest group to come out in support of expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program to cover low-income adults. The group’s election agenda, published Tuesday, comes as each of the four leading candidates for governor have expressed varying levels of support for boosting coverage. As Nola.com’s Kevin Litten reports,
“If you look at the finances and the public-private partnerships, I don’t see how you fix that without expanding Medicaid,” (CABL President Barry) Erwin said. “Taking what we’ve done and moving away from the charity hospital system to a different type of partnership and making sure it works for some might be a political issue. But if we don’t (expand Medicaid), it’s going to collapse.” Although CABL casts expanding health insurance to vast swaths of Louisiana’s poor as a moral issue, it also points out the fiscal benefits: Louisiana now pays 40 percent of Medicaid costs with the federal government picking up the rest. Under Medicaid expansion, the most the state would pay is is 10 percent — although some have argued that with so many new people receiving Medicaid through the expansion, the 10 percent share could prove more expensive. But the Louisiana Hospital Association has said it’s willing to pick up that 10 percent share through a fee approved by voters in 2014. The 10 percent share doesn’t come into play until 2020 — the federal government pays 100 percent of Medicaid reimbursements until then.
Millions in federal grants to fund expansion of youth sexual education
The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies will be able to almost double the number of youth it is reaching in Southeast Louisiana with its sexual health education programming. State organizations were recently awarded $8 million in new federal grants to support programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Nola.com’s Danielle Dreilinger reports:
Organizers say the program is especially needed in New Orleans. The city had the fourth-highest rate of AIDS diagnoses in the United States in 2012, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One quarter of HIV-positive Louisiana residents were infected before they turned 25, institute staff said. Louisiana had the fifth-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country in 2010, with 69 of 1,000 teenagers getting pregnant, according to the Guttmacher Institute. “We know that in this city HIV is really affecting young people,” Brown said. “I see young people get their diagnosis every day. I see young women learn that they are pregnant and HIV-positive.”
Number of the Day
$12 million – State revenue lost for every $1 reduction in the average price per barrel of oil (Source: Nola.com)