Monday, October 5

Monday, October 5

Preschool funding at risk; the candidates and the state budget; Mental health, mass shootings and Medicaid expansion; the hypocrisy of "helping the poor."

Preschool funding at risk
Federal funding to support preschool services for 1,800 Louisiana 4-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds is on the chopping block thanks to budget cuts approved by a House committee. As’s Danielle Dreilinger reports, Louisiana stands to lose $22.5 million that state officials had planned to spend on adding new slots for children from low-income families and to enhance services for 6,000 kids who are already in the system. A lack of preschool slots for at-risk kids is one reason barely half of Louisiana students are prepared for school when they enter kindergarten. The money is part of a $30 million grant Louisiana was awarded earlier this year.

Officials and organizations from the 18 states receiving the federal grants wrote a letter Friday (Oct. 2) urging Appropriations Committee leaders to reconsider. The Louisiana supporters included Entergy Corp., the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the state association of United Ways and state House Speaker Pro-Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who drew no opposition for re-election this year. In addition, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican who is running for governor, sent a letter in support of the grant to congressional leaders in September. The Policy Institute for Children’s executive director, Melanie Bronfin, said she was extremely concerned. “This is such a huge issue for families,” she said, and “there’s little that’s been proven to be more valuable for our citizenry.”


The candidates and the state budget
Louisiana’s myriad budget problems – which include a mid-year deficit, a 2016-17 shortfall and a long-term structural imbalance between revenues and expenses – will be the top priority for whoever gets elected governor this fall.’s Julie O’Donoghue reviews what the major candidates have promised to do (depressingly little) – and points out some of the flaws in their rhetoric. Some nuggets of note:

  • Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle wants yet another study of state tax exemptions, which would only add to the pile of research that’s already been done on that topic. He also wants to streamline sales tax collections – a worthy idea, but one that would not help with the immediate budget problems.
  • Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is calling for repeal of the “horizontal drilling” tax credit and wants to look at rolling back the state deduction for federal income taxes.
  • Rep. John Bel Edwards is embracing many of the tax recommendations made by a team of economists earlier this year, which include lowering income-tax rates but eliminating the federal income tax deduction for individuals and corporations.
  • U.S. Sen. David Vitter is mostly focused on procedural changes, such as sunsetting all tax credits and requiring a two-thirds vote to pass new ones.


Mass shootings, mental health and Medicaid expansion
When mass killings occur in America, as they do with depressing regularity, it usually doesn’t take long for conservatives to change the subject from gun control to mental health. Although severe mental illness accounts for only a small fraction of American violence, there is no doubt that the mental health safety net is frayed in Louisiana and elsewhere. As Harold Pollack writes in The Washington Post, the single most effective thing that states can do to improve access to mental health services is to expand their Medicaid programs.

It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless, addressing the complicated medical and psychiatric difficulties of many young men cycling through our jails and prisons. … Because they are now insured, these men and women have greater access to medical, psychiatric, and addiction services. Hard work is now underway to field interventions that make the most of this new access. Ohio Governor John Kasich eloquently describes the importance of such efforts. More subtly, Medicaid expansion provides financial stability to the whole network of safety-net medical, psychiatric, and addiction care. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Cook County Health System is experiencing its first surplus in decades. For the first time in memory, the majority of low-income patients are insured. This story extends far beyond Chicago, too. Hospital losses from uncompensated care have sharply declined across the Medicaid expansion states.


The hypocrisy of “helping the poor”
The travel writer Paul Theroux has been travelling the Deep South, where he found large swaths of rural areas that have been abandoned by the manufacturing industries that once flourished there. He writes in The New York Times that mega-rich corporate titans who give away their wealth to “help the poor” are themselves responsible for much of the misery they try to alleviate.

I found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered. It’s globalization, people say. Everyone knows that, everyone moans about it. Big companies have always sought cheaper labor, moving from North to South in the United States, looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salaries. To me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that, by outsourcing, it is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.


Number of the Day

37,736 – Number of “classified” civil servants in Louisiana. Ninety-six percent were rated “exceptional” or “successful” in their jobs, but most won’t be getting a raise thanks to state budget woes. (Source: The Advocate)