Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The kids aren’t alright; Good roads aren’t free; Medicaid reforms needed; and War on Poverty


The kids aren’t alright
Louisiana has been struggling to reform its juvenile justice system for more than a decade, dating back to the final year of Gov. Mike Foster’s administration. The effort has been complicated by budget cuts and results have been mixed. Now, with governor-elect John Bel Edwards set to be inaugurated, advocates are hoping that a new administration will bring needed reform. Danielle Maddox Kinchen with The Advocate has the story:


Historically much of the focus on fixing Louisiana’s juvenile system centered on the troubled secure facilities. Over the years, Louisiana officials have worked toward creating a system patterned after the highly-regarded “Missouri model,” emphasizing rehabilitation in staff-intensive, smaller settings spread out across the state to keep youth close to home. It’s supposed to be supported by a wide array of programs in the community and include engaging with an offender’s family.


But some critics say Louisiana hasn’t fully built out either the necessary staffing or facilities all over the state to truly create that system…Most observers agree there have been great improvements over the years in how the secure facilities are run, at least compared to the pervasive, serious dysfunction of more than a decade ago. But they also remain plagued with problems, from violence among youth and escapes to extreme staff turnover…State funds for the Department of Youth Services have declined by nearly $50 million since…the 2007-08 fiscal year, dropping from $162 million to $115 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.


Advocates like Josh Perry with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights want Louisiana to focus more on helping troubled youth reintegrate into their communities by providing better education programs and mental health services. There is also a push to change the age at which juveniles accused of a crime are automatically charged as an adult from 17-years-old to 18.


Good roads aren’t free
The team tasked with studying transportation issues for governor-elect. John Bel Edwards submitted its report on Monday. The group’s conclusion wasn’t a shocker. Greg Hilburn with Gannett Louisiana reports:


Maintaining Louisiana’s roads and building new infrastructure is possible. All the state needs is money. Committee Chairman Greg Morrison, a trucking executive from Shreveport, said the committee brainstormed ways to capture or create revenue streams for maintenance and construction during its five meetings. “We put everything on the table, even the things that would make some of us uncomfortable,” said Morrison, who gave as an example the possibility of tolls, which he said carriers generally oppose…Among the suggestions from the committee: possible increases in the gas tax, sales tax, vehicle registration fees, tolls and a oil and gas processing tax. “We’re not saying any one of these is the answer, but we wanted to provide as many options as possible,” Morrison said.


Also on Monday, the governor-elect’s pick to head the Department of Transportation and Development delivered a similar message to the Baton Rouge Press Club, according to Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press:


[Shawn] Wilson told the Press Club of Baton Rouge the Edwards administration will want to discuss long-range ideas to get a new influx of cash dedicated to roadwork…For the short term, Wilson said he expects to find modest amounts of new dollars to chip away at the backlog by ending diversions of state gasoline tax money to pay for state police. It’s unclear what the incoming administration will do to fill that gap in the state police budget.


Medicaid reforms needed

Add controlling the cost of health care to the tasks that will fall to governor-elect John Bel Edwards and his commissioner of administration Jay Dardenne–the Advocate’s editorial board suggests a “searching examination.” Fortunately, there are two concrete reforms that the new governor can implement that will save money and improve the quality of care. First, expanding Medicaid coverage to uninsured adults, which would modernize care delivery and reduce state spending on inefficient charity care programs. As a recent LBP commentary noted, states that expanded Medicaid are saving tens of millions of state dollars while tapping into new federal funds to improve care.


Second, Louisiana should moved to a managed care model for long-term services and supports (MLTSS) for seniors and people with disabilities who often have some of the most expensive and complex health needs. The Department of Health and Hospitals estimates MLTSS would not only enhance patient choice, but save millions in taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, Gov. Bobby Jindal pulled the plug on MLTSS because of strong opposition–not to mention campaign and presidential PAC contributions–from the nursing home industry, which fears losing lucrative state reimbursements.


War on Poverty

President Ronald Reagan used to famously say that America fought a war on poverty and poverty won. Not so. The data on the impact of safety-net programs like food stamps and tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) tell the opposite story, according to Danilo Trisi with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:


The safety net was nearly ten times more effective at reducing poverty in 2014 as in 1967, new data show. That is, safety net programs reduced the number of otherwise-poor people by 42 percent in 2014.  In sharp contrast, safety net programs cut the number of otherwise-poor people by just a little more than 4 percent in 1967, the first year for which this data is available. In 2014, before accounting for government benefits and taxes (including tax credits), about 87 million people had incomes below the poverty line.  Counting benefits and taxes, however, lowers that number by 36 million people — a drop of 42 percent…If measured without considering the effects of taxes and government income support, the poverty rate is now similar to its 1967 level.  But after accounting for these benefits and tax credits, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2014.


The major success of anti-poverty initiatives over the last few decades is even more notable considering that wage growth during that time period stagnated.


Number of the Day


$12.7 billion – Louisiana’s backlog of road and bridge work (Source: Associated Press)