Wednesday, October 14

Wednesday, October 14

Stuck in the coverage gap; Food assistance and the job market; How will the next governor fix the budget?; Louisiana case at the Supreme Court

Stuck in the coverage gap

The number of uninsured Louisiana dropped to 582,000 in 2014, down from 751,000 the year before, as the Affordable Care Act made more insurance more accessible to millions of Americans. But that number would be a lot lower if Gov. Bobby Jindal had made the wise decision to expand health coverage to low-wage workers. According to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 3 Louisianans who remain uninsured would qualify. Bruce Alpert with reports:

One-third of Louisiana’s 582,000 residents without health insurance are in a “coverage gap”: They can’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act‘s Medicaid expansion because the state declined to participate, and their incomes are too low to receive subsidized coverage under the “Obamacare” marketplace, according to a new report…Louisiana is one of 20 states that continue to decline participation in the Medicaid expansion, despite the federal government picking up at least 90 percent of the costs.

The good news is the next governor can reverse course on day one, which won’t just improve healthcare in Louisiana, but will also generate tens of millions in savings that will help balance the budget.


Weak job market justifies food assistance

To policymakers and editorial writers in Baton Rouge, it may not sound unreasonable to require adults to work 20 hours a week to qualify for federal food assistance. But as LBP Director Jan Moller writes in a letter to The Advocate, that view is dramatically divorced from the economic reality on the ground. The truth is that in large parts of Louisiana, job opportunities are scarce:

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to cut off federal food assistance for working-age adults may sound like a good idea at first. Who doesn’t think people should work if they have the ability? But the reality in many parts of Louisiana is that these benefits are sorely needed, because the economy simply isn’t performing up to snuff. It might not be obvious in Baton Rouge, where job growth is strong, but the “Louisiana Miracle” continues to elude large parts of our state…Data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission tells us the Alexandria, Lafayette, Houma, Monroe, New Orleans and Shreveport areas all had fewer jobs in August than a year earlier. Only Baton Rouge and Lake Charles had year-over-year job growth. In some parts of rural Louisiana and the delta, unemployment is far above the national average. Tumbling oil prices mean workers in some south Louisiana parishes soon will need extra assistance.

Denying food to the unemployed will do nothing to create jobs. Ironically, the decision to deny food aid to the unemployed may actually make the job situation worse by depriving local grocers of $150 million in annual revenue that does help support jobs in every community.


How will the next governor fix the budget?

Given the gravity of Louisiana’s budget shortfall, it is a bit concerning–though perhaps not surprising – that the four major candidates for governor have offered few specifics for how they would solve the problem. But the candidates–Scott Angelle, Jay Dardenne, John Bel Edwards and David Vitter–do seem to agree on the broad outlines of reform, according to Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press:

  • All four candidates agree that the state should scrutinize tax breaks and eliminate those that aren’t giving taxpayers a good “return on investment.” (This is easier said than done, as many loopholes have powerful constituencies)
  • All four say they will prioritize transportation in the state’s construction budget. Louisiana currently has a $12 billion backlog of unmet construction needs
  • All agree that it will take at least one, and some say two, special legislative sessions early next year to make needed reforms.


Louisiana case at Supreme Court

Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But the Court did not say whether its decision should retroactively apply to 2,100 inmates across the country, including some who were sentenced decades ago. On Tuesday, the Court heard a case originating from Baton Rouge tackling that question. National Public Radio reports:

The case was brought by 70-year-old Henry Montgomery, who has spent 53 years in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison for a murder he committed when he was 17. His lawyers argue that unlike juveniles sentenced now, Montgomery had no chance a half-century ago to show that there were mitigating circumstances that would justify a sentence less than life without parole. In fact, the state could only impose a mandatory life term, whereas now a defendant can get a sentence that is significantly shorter. Montgomery’s lawyers maintain that such a huge change in the law should be retroactive and apply to the 2,100 juvenile killers, like Montgomery, who, according to experts, were automatically sentenced to life without parole before 2012. The state of Louisiana disagrees, noting that a life without parole sentence is valid even today if, after a sentencing hearing, the defendant is deemed incorrigible and dangerous enough. Therefore, the state says, the 2012 decision is not a big enough structural change to justify applying it retroactively.

Number of the Day

33 – Percentage of Louisianans without health insurance who would gain coverage if the state expanded Medicaid (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)