Work vs. food assistance
The Advocate editorial board agrees with the Jindal administration’s decision to turn away up to $150 million a year in federal funding to help poor people buy food. The newspaper says taking away $194 a month in food assistance from 64,000 unemployed Louisianans will encourage them to find jobs, seek job training or perform community service.
At the same time, we take the point of Jan Moller, of the Louisiana Budget Project, who points out that unemployment rates in many Louisiana parishes in the Mississippi Delta are very high. These mostly rural parishes are realistically not going to blossom into economic recovery overnight, whatever we might want to see. Even in those hard cases, are there not opportunities for service in those areas, so that people can keep the food stamps, provide some helpful hands for good works and have the dignity of work? Moller wants the state to reconsider in these hard cases and perhaps there is reason to, but let’s see how this initiative works out. Nobody should go hungry but we don’t see that as inevitable under these new rules.
While it’s true that some able-bodied people may simply refuse to work, it’s also true that an arbitrary three-month cutoff will hurt many adults who struggle with basics like transportation, or who may have perfectly good reasons for not working such as caring for a sick relative. The three-month cutoff will hurt everyone, including the grocery stores that depend on the money from food assistance to serve their communities.
Investing in children should be part of the debate
Sherry S. Guarisco of The Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families writes in The Advocate that candidates for office should be well-informed about issues affecting children – and voters should make sure they know where candidates stand.
The Louisiana Platform for Children, recently released by the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, shows that almost 70 percent of births in our state are paid by Medicaid, one-third of our children are living in poverty, high-quality care for infants and toddlers is hard to find, and the safety net for children with disabilities or those who suffer from abuse and neglect is extremely weak. Children with mental health issues or those involved in the juvenile justice system face significant challenges, as well. Systems designed to support at-risk children have experienced severe cuts over the last few years and now have limited capacity to respond to ever-increasing needs. Louisiana brings in enough revenue each year to avoid destabilizing cuts to important services for children and families. What services should be funded and how? We hope these questions are at the forefront of our debates and planning over the next several months. For a baby born on Jan. 11, the day we swear in a new administration, what will the future hold?
Poverty and brain development
Researchers continue to learn more about the ways that poverty affects brain development in young children – and how even modest family income boosts can reduce a child’s chances of staying in poverty, dropping out of school and going to jail. Writing in The Washington Post, Columbia University neuroscientist Kimberly Noble says ongoing research is critical to winning political support for policies that help children succeed.
Research in the United States suggests that a $4,000 increase in family earnings during the first two years of a low-income child’s life is associated with remarkable differences in long-term prospects, including higher adult earnings, more hours spent in the workforce and even improved health in adulthood. To date, however, the effects of cash on children’s brain development remain untested. Our clinical trial is designed to provide strong evidence regarding whether and how poverty reduction promotes cognitive and brain development. This study, however, will take at least five years to complete — far too long for young children living in poverty today. We should not wait until then to push for policies that can help inoculate young children’s pliable brains against the ravages of poverty. For example, housing vouchers that allow families to move to better neighborhoods can foster upward mobility and help children escape poverty. Similarly, programs that help low-income families increase savings can pay huge dividends for low-income children. These include universal college savings account programs, currently offered in a handful of cities and states. A pilot federal program, the American Dream Accounts Act, was recently passed in the Senate as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. One study found that low- and moderate-income children with even less than $500 in a college savings account were significantly more likely to enroll in college and to graduate. The political battles for major expansion of these types of programs are unlikely to be won until we can provide hard scientific proof of their effectiveness. Until then, we need to do all we can to support policies that offer our most vulnerable children the best chance of reaching their full potential.
Chemical Association lawsuit continues to threaten revenue
House Clerk Butch Speer, representing the Louisiana Legislature, tried unsuccessfully to get a lawsuit that could threaten $103 million in revenue for the state thrown out of court. Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that the Louisiana Chemical Association has the right to sue over the temporary suspension of a 1-cent sales tax exemption on business utilities. Melinda Deslatte of the AP has more:
Caldwell said businesses look at tax issues in deciding where to locate and that falls in line with the association’s purpose of fostering the growth of the chemical industry. He said he didn’t believe the association needed to be a taxpayer to seek a declaration that a legislative act was unconstitutional. Lawmakers scaled back dozens of tax breaks to generate more money for the state treasury in the fiscal year that began July 1 and stop deep cuts to public health care services and colleges in the $25 billion budget. The chemical association lawsuit claims the suspension of the business utility sales tax break is unconstitutional because it didn’t receive support from two-thirds of House lawmakers. It also says the legislation improperly seeks to suspend only a portion of a tax law. Lawmakers have defended their actions, saying the legislation was properly handled.
Number of the Day
28 – The percentage of Louisiana children living in poverty (Source: Louisiana Platform for Children)