Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Legislators question food assistance cuts; Economic development and the next governor; The Geography of Sleep; and Early voting starts this Saturday


Legislators question food assistance cuts

The Dime learned in high school civics class that the legislative branch of government is closest to the people they serve. So it is concerning that while the governor and his staff in Baton Rouge decided to arbitrarily limit access to food assistance for unemployed adults, legislators on the ground say the job market is too weak to support such a move. People need a helping hand. Kevin Litten with reports:


Legislators like state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, who represent areas of high unemployment, say that approach does not acknowledge the fact that many people in her district have been in the hunt for jobs for long periods without success. According to state unemployment data, the Monroe area has the highest unemployment rate in Louisiana at 7.6 percent. … State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, said he’s also concerned about people who have been through layoffs will be swept up in the cancellation of benefits.”Is it practical, because I’m seeing every day and seeing some of the best people in the world calling us saying my hours have been reduced,” or a job was eliminated altogether, Mills said. “If this was done a year ago and oil was $100 a barrel and people had for hire signs all the place, I could see. Is it the right time to do this? I don’t know. I think we have to question that right now.”


A better solution is for the state to avoid limiting food aid until the state economy recovers. Federal law limits adults without children to just three months of food stamps in a three-year period unless they are working 20 hours a week, but also allows states to waive the rule when unemployment is high so that people aren’t made to go hungry simply for experiencing bad luck. Louisiana is eligible for a statewide waiver, but refused these federal dollars. An alternative policy would target partial waivers to the highest-need areas, an option the Louisiana Budget Project discussed with the state, but to no avail.


Economic development and the next governor

One of the hallmarks of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s two terms in office was the use of big incentive packages and tax giveaways to try to lure companies to Louisiana. The strategy garnered some high-profile “wins” and ribbon-cuttings, but also came at a very high cost to state taxpayers at a time when other priorities like colleges and roads were being neglected. As Sue Lincoln with WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge reports, the four men vying to become Louisiana’s next governor all say economic development is a priority, but would take a different approach that focuses on higher education and workforce quality:


David Vitter also says it will be an important goal, if he’s elected governor. “I would continue that focus on economic growth and job creation, but shift it a little bit: not focused any more on incentives, but focused on capacity building.” Jay Dardenne agrees with the need to shift focus. “Those jobs have been created now as a result of the commitments we have from people to come to Louisiana. We’ve got to make sure that our citizens, our young people, have the right tools and skills to be able to satisfy the needs of industry,” Dardenne states.


And how do they propose to do that? “Keying job performance and job opportunities with higher education,” Dardenne says. Angelle says he’ll focus the resources on Louisiana’s community and technical colleges. “60% of the jobs we’ll create over the next ten years will require more than a high school diploma, but less than a 4-year degree,” Angelle says, by way of explanation. Vitter simply says, “We need to basically triple what we’re doing very quickly.” John Bel Edwards says linking higher education to workforce initiatives sounds good, but implementing it may not be that easy. After all, state funding for higher education has been cut an estimated $700-million since 2008. “Now there’s not a workforce development initiative that you can think of that benefits from that level of reduction in funding,” Edwards observes.


The Geography of Sleep

In which counties (or parishes) in America do people sleep the most soundly? Who is up late counting sheep? Now we know. Researchers used survey data from the Centers for Disease Control to gauge what percentage of people in each county reported symptoms of insomnia and mapped the results, reports the Washington Post:


You might assume that hectic fast-paced lifestyles would lead to high rates of poor sleep in the nation’s urban areas. But surprisingly, that’s not necessarily what the data show. Instead, the nation’s biggest cluster of bad sleep ended up in the heart of Appalachia, in a cluster of counties in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. … The researchers looked at a number of social and demographic factors to see if anything correlated — obesity, income, education, drinking rates, overall physical and mental health, etc…People who were generally younger, poorer and in worse health were more likely to live in places with high rates of bad sleep. But that’s just a correlation – it doesn’t explain why people sleep more poorly in those areas, or whether poverty and bad health are a cause of poor sleep, an effect of it, or related to something else entirely. … In addition to bad health outcomes, these counties are among the most economically distressed in the nation. So it could be that a combination of poor health and money worries keep a lot of folks in this region up at night.


Early voting starts this Saturday

Election day in Louisiana is a little less than three weeks away, but early voting starts this Saturday, October 10th and runs through next Saturday the 17th. All voters are eligible to vote early, according to the Secretary of State. Offices will be open from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. You can find voting locations here. In addition to statewide and legislative races, voters will be asked to consider four constitutional amendments. For more information, check out the Public Affairs Research Council’s “Guide to the 2015 Constitutional Amendments.”


— The Daily Dime is taking a brief hiatus. We’ll return Monday, October 12.


Number of the Day


7,000 – Difference in number of nonfarm jobs in Louisiana between August 2015 and August 2014, a paltry 0.4 percent rate of growth (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission)