Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Gov-elect faces past due bills; Medicaid expansion hiccup?; Houma Indians seek recognition; and Giving thanks for food stamps


Gov-elect faces past due bills

Given the budgetary disaster facing Louisiana, who would even want to be governor? That’s the question the Advocate’s editorial board is asking. The list of financial problems that John Bel Edwards will face in January is long, and Gov. Bobby Jindal added to the problems with a set of mid-year corrections to the budget:


That impact is made worse by the profligate financial policies of the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal. The latest of Jindal’s commissioners of administration, Stafford Palmieri, presented a series of cuts that the governor can make on his own authority…The reality is that the “adjustments” by the administration just built up another IOU: The administration is using cash from Medicaid funds, money that the state health department was going to apply last month to shortfalls in the health budget. Edwards is no rookie in this financial shell game, having watched Jindal’s budget magic at work for eight years. When Gov.-elect Edwards takes office, we doubt he’ll be surprised at the problem, but the recent budget cuts are another and severe warning that righting the Jindal-led ship will be a difficult undertaking.


The Washington Post’s editorial page has also taken note of Jindal’s fiscal mismanagement – accusing the outgoing governor of “putting ideological purity over prudence” –  and says Jindal’s solutions to the $487 million midyear budget shortfall are making things worse:


This is the same basic budget strategy Mr. Jindal’s Louisiana has used for some time: loot the state’s rainy-day funds and other one-time sources while cutting education and other state programs. The outgoing governor’s last budget raised some revenue through cigarette taxes and other measures, but it clearly wasn’t enough given the midyear fiscal straits the state is dealing with now. While it’s true that the energy-rich state’s revenue has suffered from the drop in oil prices, Mr. Jindal’s mismanagement — optimized to appeal to voters in GOP presidential primaries — has been a major contributor to the problem.


Medicaid expansion hiccup?
A disagreement over the interpretation of a funding mechanism passed last legislative session to help pay for Medicaid expansion has caused some hand wringing in recent days. But according to Marsha Shuler of The Advocate, some say the entire issue is being overblown:


The measure was based on hospitals assessing a fee on themselves…The Louisiana Hospital Association backed the legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 75. The plan outlined in HCR75 includes a guaranteed “base reimbursement level” for certain Medicaid payments, including uninsured care. But the guaranteed reimbursement level won’t allow uncompensated or free care to be reduced in future years to the degree projected, meaning the savings would not be generated, Fiscal Office chief health care analyst Shawn Hotstream said.


“I don’t believe the hospital guys intended their resolution to read that way,” former state Medicaid director Don Gregory said. They meant total Medicaid reimbursement would not be reduced below a certain level, not per individual program, such as the one that pays some hospitals for care they provide the uninsured. The Louisiana Hospital Association disagrees with Hotstream’s interpretation. “We don’t think there’s a problem,” LHA President Paul Salles said. The legislation intended that the federal money would be used as an offset to the state dollars currently spent on uninsured care, Salles said, adding it would be nonsensical to read it any other way. Salles said the association is ready to work with the Edwards administration on Medicaid expansion. He sees nothing standing in the way of state implementation.


Even if the Legislature needs to revise its resolution, the “speedy implementation of Medicaid expansion” should not be delayed, said Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a Baton Rouge-based research group that analyzes fiscal policies from a low- to middle-income perspective and has long supported expanding the program. “The legislative intent from everybody involved is clear — from the Hospital Association, from the legislators who voted on it,” Moller said. “The intent of the resolution was to minimize fiscal costs. Why would you want to lock the status quo in place?”


Houma Indians seek recognition
Federal recognition of tribal status brings big benefits–water, land and hunting rights, along with lucrative federal aid–but is difficult to attain. Just ask the Houma Indians of south Louisiana, who had their application for recognition denied in 1994. Things may be changing though, according to Cain Burdeau with the Associated Press, as the federal government updates its processes for official recognition:


In June, the Obama administration hit the reset button on how a tribe becomes recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA. It’s a sea change that’s expected make it much less difficult for many tribes – including the Houma – to achieve tribal status. The biggest difference is that a tribe now will have to prove its existence and cohesion starting only in 1900. Until now, tribes had to prove they’d been intact tribes – with unique identities, cultures and governance – dating to historical times. For the Houma, that meant tracing a history stretching back to 1682 when French explorers first wrote about them…For south Louisiana’s native Americans, obtaining federal recognition could be a major step for impoverished American-Indian communities in their struggle to survive and hold onto ancestral lands disappearing along the Gulf. Traditionally, these communities lived off the riches of the marshes – fishing, trapping and foraging…Houma leaders said they’ve been discriminated against by a federal government more keen to protect Louisiana oil and gas development than defend tribes.


Giving thanks for food stamps
Like many Americans, the Daily Dime sat down to quite the meal on Thursday (and leftovers on Friday, and Saturday…and Sunday). But not every family in Louisiana was as lucky. As Brynne Keith-Jennings with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reminds us, many Americans are food insecure. Fortunately, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) helps millions from going hungry. Here are five SNAP facts from Keith-Jennings:


  • SNAP serves particularly vulnerable families.  Some 87 percent of SNAP recipients are in households with a child under age 18, an elderly person 60 years or older, or a disabled individual.
  • SNAP benefits are targeted on very low-income families.  Some 92 percent of benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line (roughly $20,000 for a family of three in 2015); 57 percent go to households with incomes below half of the poverty line.
  • SNAP lifts millions out of poverty.  SNAP lifts 10.3 million people out of poverty, including 4.9 million children.  (These figures correct for the underreporting of benefits in the Census Bureau survey.)
  • SNAP helps many low-wage working families.  More than half of SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult work while receiving SNAP; more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.
  • SNAP benefits are extremely modest.  Benefits average about $1.40 per person per meal.


Number of the Day

97,000 – Number of Louisianans kept out of poverty by federal SNAP food assistance (Source: CBPP)