Thursday, November 20, 2015

Thursday, November 20, 2015

Colleges spared, health care cut in budget plan; Beware of block grants; Bobby Jindal, then vs. now and; Fasting for food stamps

Colleges spared, health care cut in budget plan

Faced with a nearly $500 million gap, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration laid out a plan to re-balance the current-year budget that relies on patchwork financing, legal settlements and the state’s rainy-day fund. Public colleges and universities, which have been cut severely during Jindal’s time in office, were spared from further reductions. But health care spending will take a hit of at least $130 million, which the next governor will have to try to solve. As The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports,


The plan assumes Louisiana would bring in more money than initially projected for a tax amnesty program, and uses $4 million from a recent legal settlement with Transocean, the owner of the offshore drilling rig involved in BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. While public colleges would be spared, the agency that provides public health care services would take a hit. Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said nearly all the $130 million reduction can be managed without cuts to services, with savings expected from an anti-fraud initiative in the Medicaid program for the poor. If the savings don’t show up, however, the agency would have to slash services. Jindal’s plan also would redirect all the money Kliebert had intended to plug an internal gap in the Medicaid program to instead deal with the state’s overall deficit. The Medicaid shortfall – which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars – would be left to the next governor.


The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee will consider the plan tomorrow.  The full text of the governor’s plan is available here.


Beware of block grants

The new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is a long-time supporter of consolidating the federal government’s anti-poverty programs into large block grants that states can spend as they see fit. Ryan and his supporters often promise that the block-grant approach will not reduce overall spending on programs that provide housing supports, health and other social services for low-income families. But a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that, in fact, spending under existing federal block grants has fallen dramatically over time.


This CBPP analysis is a comprehensive examination of funding levels for all housing, health, and social services block-grant programs that receive annual funding of more than $100 million. Funding for all but one of these programs has shrunk in inflation-adjusted terms since their inception, in some cases dramatically.  (In this paper, all figures are for fiscal years, not calendar years, and unless indicated otherwise, are adjusted for inflation.)  For the 13 block grants, the median change in a block grant’s funding between its inception and 2015 is a decline of one-quarter, or 25 percent.  For four of the block grants, funding plunged by more than 60 percent.  For example, funding for the job training block grant, focused on improving employment and earnings prospects, has fallen 70 percent since it was adopted in 1982.


Bobby Jindal, then vs. now

The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace has been covering Gov. Bobby Jindal since he first entered the state political fray in 2003, and has an insightful look at the way his policy framework shifted as he set his sights on becoming president:


Consider his journey on tax policy. Early in his first term, Jindal tried to block the Legislature from repealing the Stelly income tax increases, which had been adopted by popular vote as part of a progressive swap that also eliminated state sales tax on necessities. When lawmakers threatened to eliminate the income tax entirely, Jindal stepped in and struck a compromise to scale back the increase but keep the tax in place. So when he talks of signing the largest tax cut in Louisiana history, remember that he only did so to prevent further damage to the state’s financial stability. This was Jindal keeping his eye on the ball.


Contrast that with what happened in his second term, once his attention had shifted to building just the right Republican résumé to compete for president. First, he set out to eliminate state income taxes, despite his earlier, very reasonable reservations, but did such a bad job of convincing locals that it was a good idea that he was forced to withdraw the plan on the Legislature’s opening day. Then, this year, when the bottom dropped out of the budget, he proposed a convoluted plan featuring a ridiculous scheme to pass a credit nobody would get and a fee nobody would pay — all to meet the arbitrary demands of a national anti-tax group whose favor he sought. Lawmakers will be cleaning up the mess well into the next governor’s term.


Fasting for food stamps

The president of the New Orleans City Council and his staff plan to participate in a one-day fast to protest Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to not apply for a federal waiver that would allow more than 64,000 low-income Louisiana adults to receive food assistance beyond Jan. 1. The governor’s decision means Louisiana will be leaving up to $150 million a year in federal benefits on the table – money that could have supported people and businesses in every corner of the state. As Jason Rogers Williams writes in The Advocate,


Our state has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. It is criminal to require employment to eat in a state where there are not enough employment opportunities. As stated in the official complaint by NOWCRJ, “Loss of benefits may lead families to homelessness. Most people affected by this policy change are eligible for few, if any, other public benefits that would bridge this gap.” I have never known real hunger. Most of us have not. Our friends, neighbors and family members who rely on food stamp assistance to survive do not deserve to be penalized by our current governor’s continued attempts to bolster his conservative credentials. We call on Jindal to file the waiver immediately. It is not too late.


Number of the Day
27 – Number of Louisiana parishes that have two-year average unemployment rates that are at least 20 percent above the national average. (Source: LBP research)