Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thousands of Louisianans to lose food benefits; Office of Group Benefits in better financial shape; Louisiana one of the worst states for teachers and; Debate day

Thousands of Louisianans to lose food benefits

An estimated 70,000 unemployed Louisianans who are currently receiving federal food benefits could soon be cut off under a policy  change announced Wednesday by state authorities. As The Associated Press Reports, the change would affect able-bodied adults without dependents who are currently receiving food stamp benefits and fail to meet certain work requirements. The reason? Louisiana is refusing to take advantage of a provision in federal law designed for states such as Louisiana that have high rates of unemployment.


The state, in a news release, said those in that category will be required to work at least 20 hours per week or be enrolled in a federally-approved job training program. If such a person doesn’t meet the requirement, they will only receive benefits for three months out of a 36-month period. The change comes as the state allows a federal waiver to expire Thursday. The waiver currently allows adults, ages 18 to 49, who are capable of working but who aren’t working and who don’t have children to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits without an imposed time limit.


Louisiana is eligible for a statewide waiver of the time requirement in 2016 given our high unemployment rate. Louisiana has added 51,000 jobs since January 2013, but at the same time the labor force grew by 102,000 job seekers. Louisiana now has a higher unemployment rate than the nation. No state match dollars are required in order to draw down the federal funds.


Office of Group Benefits in better financial shape

The health plan for state employees, retirees and their dependents is back on solid financial footing thanks to changes made last year that forced current state workers to pay more for their care. A report by the Legislative Fiscal Office says the Office of Group Benefits has stabilized its finances after years of burning through its reserve funds as a way to mask holes in the state budget. The good news comes at a cost however, with higher premiums and reduced benefits being passed along to those in the program. Melinda Deslatte of the AP has the details:   


Both retirees and current workers have seen higher co-pays for doctor visits, along with new medication restrictions and requirements for prior authorization for certain medical procedures. In the 2013-14 budget year, the Office of Group Benefits’ was spending on average $16 million more a month than it received in premiums. Group Benefits was expected to be nearly broke by the end of the last budget year without cost reductions or an influx of new cash. With the health plan changes, the Legislative Fiscal Office says the insurance program cut its monthly use of the reserve fund in half in the 2014-15 budget year that ended in June. The program spent about $7 million more each month than it took in. And more money is flowing into the state insurance program since then. Premiums rose July 1 on average by 11 percent for retirees and employees, who are paying $36 million more annually for health care. The remaining portion of the increase is covered by state agencies and the 44 local school boards that cover their employees through Group Benefits. If premiums are raised at least another 5 percent again next year, the fiscal office says, the reserve fund would increase to the recommended range considered financially healthy.


Louisiana one of the worst states for teachers

A new survey by the consumer site WalletHub has bad news for teachers in Louisiana. As The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser reports, Louisiana ranks 40th best for teachers, with low scores for work environment. Schools systems in the state fared even worse, coming in at 47th in the nation.


“It definitely isn’t a shocker, and it doesn’t tell us anything we haven’t seen on the ground in Louisiana, particularly since what I would call the ‘great worsening’ in 2012,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “Teachers are still dealing with the effects of failed reforms, the fallout from Common Core and the new wave of standardized testing, among other factors.” WalletHub’s job opportunity and competition category included factors such as the average starting salary for teachers, the median annual salary for teachers, teachers’ income growth potential, the unemployment rate, the projected number of teachers per 1,000 students and 10-year changes in teacher salaries. According to the WalletHub data, Louisiana’s average teaching starting salary is $40,689, while the median annual salary is $50,406. Researchers also expect the state to have 36.5 teachers per 1,000 students by the year 2022.


Debate day
There is plenty of politics on tap this evening. WDSU-TV will host the first statewide live televised gubernatorial debate at 6 p.m.,, featuring the four leading candidates plus Cary Deaton and Jeremy Odom. The debate will be broadcast statewide, as viewers outside the New Orleans area can watch on public or commercial stations in their area.


In Baton Rouge, meanwhile, The Power Coalition is hosting a forum at 6 p.m. for legislative candidates from House Districts 29 and 61 and Senate District 15. Topics of discussion will be the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, public transportation, and state spending priorities. The public is invited to attend at Living Faith Christian Center, 6375 Winbourne Avenue.


Number of the Day

6 percent – Louisiana’s unemployment rate in August. The national unemployment rate was 5.1 percent (Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures and The Bureau of Labor Statistics)