Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Election 2015: Moving an anti-poverty agenda; Medicaid expansion among “highest priorities”; Blue state, red state; and Budget is rebalanced…on paper


Election 2015: Moving an anti-poverty agenda

John Bel Edwards’ surprisingly resounding 12-point win in Saturday’s gubernatorial runoff means that progress is likely on several policies aimed at improving the lives of low- and moderate-income Louisiana families. A look back at the policy questionnaire that Edwards submitted to the United Way of Southeast Louisiana shows where he stands on key issues affecting vulnerable families:


Medicaid expansion: Edwards has promised to take advantage of the opportunity to cover low-income adults up to 138 percent of poverty without seeking a waiver from the federal government.


Earned Income Tax Credit: Edwards supports doubling the current credit from 3.5 percent of the federal EITC to 7 percent and voted for such legislation during the 2015 legislative session.


Minimum wage: “Many people believe that only high school kids and recent graduates work for minimum wage, but in fact many people in Louisiana are actually forced to support families on minimum wage,” Edwards wrote in the group’s questionnaire.


Payday lending: Edwards supports capping the interest rates that lenders can charge on short-term loans that often trap borrowers in cycles of debt.


Read the rest of Edwards’ answers by clicking the line above.


Medicaid expansion among “highest priorities”

Governor-elect John Bel Edwards said Sunday that extending health-care coverage to low-income working-age adults will be one of his top priorities upon taking office on Jan. 11, but said it may not be possible to expand the Medicaid program on “day one” as he promised during the campaign. As Kevin Litten reports on Times-Picayune, the hangup involves differing interpretations of a legislative resolution that’s designed to bring in money to the Medicaid program through a hospital provider fee.


There is “a difference of opinion” in interpretations of how the bill was drafted and passed, Edwards said. But he did not appear concerned that ultimately the state would have to find a way to raise money to pay for the federal matching funds required starting in 2017. The Louisiana Hospital Association brokered a deal with lawmakers that would allow hospitals to pool their money to help pay for a percentage of the federal match. The rest of the money would be raised through fees on insurance premiums and other revenue sources that are not expected to result in tax increases. “The expansion of health care coverage for working families is among the highest priorities. It’s something I’ve been working on for three years, and I never once during this campaign shied away from that particular issue,” Edwards said during a news conference with reporters in New Orleans. “So we are going to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana. We’re going to do it as soon as we possibly can and as responsibly as we possibly can.”


Meanwhile, the Capitol Hill paper The Hill reports that the solid wall of opposition to Medicaid expansion in the Deep South is starting to crack, with Alabama also considering expansion and the federal dollars that come with it.


“I do think that if we have some states in that belt in the South then that will put pressure on the states around them,” said Dee Mahan, Medicaid program director at the liberal healthcare advocacy group Families USA. Alabama is unlikely to simply expand the healthcare program as ObamaCare envisioned, but instead would likely negotiate with the administration to put a conservative twist on the program, as other Republican-led states have done. One option is the Arkansas model, where the expansion enrolls people in private health insurance plans instead of government-run Medicaid.


Saturday’s election results aside, it’s become a modern political axiom that voters in poor Southern states – who are more likely than voters in other states to depend on a social safety net – often vote against their economic best interest by supporting politicians who promise to weaken that safety net. But as Alex MacGillis reports in the New York Times, the reality is far more complicated, and is rooted in subtle differences between voters at the bottom of the economic ladder and those on the rung above.


In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process. The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.


Budget is rebalanced … on paper

As if a reminder was needed of the financial headaches that await the Edwards administration, Friday’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget saw outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal win approval of his plan to plug a $487 million hole in the current-year budget with a pastiche of short-term fixes. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports,


Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget said they expected to face budget troubles again in only a matter of months, but they set aside those worries and said the governor to take office in January will need to address the state’s larger financial woes. “This is not a perfect plan. This kicks some things down the road again,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said as he urged passage. “But at least it gets us through this crisis right now.”


Kevin Litten of Times-Picayune reports that $126 million in savings comes largely from delaying some Medicaid payments for two weeks so they show up in the next fiscal year – a move the Jindal administration is describing as an “anti-fraud” initiative.


It is difficult to see how the change is going to address the department’s larger fiscal problems, said Steve Spires, a budget analyst with the Louisiana Budget Project. “Just because I delay paying my bills for two weeks doesn’t make me richer,” Spires said.


Number of the Day


$186.1 million – Budget gap in the state Medicaid program, which remains unfilled after Friday’s vote of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to plug another current-year budget shortfall. (Source: