Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

Food assistance threatened; ‘Get the job done and go home’; Budgeting in uncertain times; and Kristof: The Real Welfare Cheats

Food assistance threatened

The Louisiana House approved legislation Thursday that’s designed to take away federal food assistance from 31,000 working-age Louisiana adults without children. House Bill 594 by Rep. Jay Morris of Monroe would require legislative approval for the waiver of work requirements for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) recipients. Currently, such waiver applications only need the governor’s approval. The bill now heads to the Senate. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn has more:


Louisiana received a federal waiver to bypass federal work requirements for 19 years before former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal announced last year he wouldn’t seek another one. Gov. John Bel Edwards sought and received a waiver when he took office in January. Morris’ bill would require approval for a waiver by the Joint Committee on Health and Welfare rather than just a request from the governor. If the bill becomes law, it could impact about 30,000 people who receive food stamps in Louisiana who fall into the able-bodied category. The average food stamp benefit is $194 per month. “I think somebody who is able-bodied and has no children or dependents who isn’t spending 20 hours a week doing something constructive is not doing himself, herself or the community any good,” Morris said. “The best way to get people back into the work force is require them to do something active.” But some members questioned Morris’ motives during the debate on the House floor and others found the bill insensitive to those who may have lost their jobs in an economic downtown, especially in the energy sector in the Lafayette area. “Did you know that 16,000 people are out of work in Lafayette?” Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, asked Morris. “Is this bill saying these 16,000 people should come to the Capitol to ask this committee if they can eat?”


‘Get the job done and go home’
Legislators failed to solve Louisiana’s massive revenue shortfall during the February special session. And now their hands are tied because the state constitution doesn’t allow tax increases in even-numbered years during a regular session. So what’s next? Another special session to search for revenues. Gov. John Bel Edwards wants it to start immediately after the regular session. Conservatives want to wait until fall. The inimitable Jim Bean of the Lake Charles American Press wants action taken sooner than later.


I ran into a resident from Lake Charles at a reception here this week who said he didn’t understand why the Legislature couldn’t complete its work early. “Tell them to go ahead and increase income taxes, ‘sine die’ (adjourn) and head for home,” he said. The fellow, whom I knew, was apparently referring to the inability of legislators to raise personal income taxes at an earlier special session. Unfortunately, things don’t work as smoothly or as quickly at the state Capitol as that resident would like. Taxes can’t be raised at the current session, so another special session is necessary to deal with raising more revenue. Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to call another session to consider new revenue sources, but said it can’t be done legally until the current one ends on June 6. So he indicated he might call one to begin June 7. OK, so what’s the problem? Well, lawmakers held that earlier special session and didn’t finish the job. Could they do it a second time? …The revenues that were raised at the earlier special session were temporary and the odds are the same thing is going to happen at another session. So why delay the inevitable? The citizen I saw this week made a lot of sense. Get the special session done as quickly as possible and go home. If only change at the Legislature were that easy.


Budgeting in uncertain times

The ongoing uncertainty about the timing of a special session – and the willingness of legislators to raise additional revenue –  is giving more heartburn than usual to those who rely on government services. Hospitals that contract with the state to provide indigent care, students who rely on TOPS and advocates for people with disabilities are relying on the state to straighten out its finances before the July 1 start of the 2017 fiscal year.  Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press explains why making $750 in budget cuts while keeping fingers crossed is a burden not to be envied.


Unsure of what additional money they might raise or when, lawmakers are sifting through budget-cutting scenarios from Edwards. Those proposals could strip all state financing from the privatized LSU hospitals and clinics in Alexandria, Bogalusa, Houma and Lake Charles; provide only about one-third of the money needed to fully fund TOPS; and shutter state parks, museums and services.Henry said lawmakers could find ways to rework the budget cuts that might be more tolerable. “Our priorities might be a little different,” he said. “There are other options out there.”


In their budget hearing, Louisiana’s college leaders didn’t bother to hide growing frustration with the budget question marks. They don’t know what positions they can afford to fill or what classes they can afford in the 2016-17 school year. Worsening the situation, higher education officials told the Appropriations Committee this week, they don’t know how many students will receive TOPS tuition awards, and the size and number of those awards could sway students on whether they will go to college and what campus they’ll choose. “We need some answers now,” said Dan Reneau, interim president of the University of Louisiana System. “Students are definitely making up their minds now.” LSU System President F. King Alexander said if lawmakers can’t give college campus officials more certainty about state financing, they should at least give the schools control of their own tuition and fees.”Just let us go,” Alexander said. “Let us adjust to our own market.”


Kristof: The Real Welfare Cheats

Columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wades into the national debate over welfare, and says the real problem isn’t people who rely on public assistance to meet basic needs, but the corporations that have gamed the federal tax code to their advantage.


A study to be released Thursday (by Oxfam)  says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative? And why would a humanitarian nonprofit like Oxfam spend its time poring over offshore accounts and tax dodges? “The global economic system is becoming increasingly rigged” in ways that exacerbate inequality, laments Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).


Number of the Day
$15 billion – The estimated lost revenue from the decline in IRS corporate audits per year— enough to make full-day pre-K universal. (Source: The New York Times and Syracuse University)