Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

Encouraging work among SNAP recipients; “Sanctuary cities” bill approved by House panel; Mass incarceration doesn’t pay; and States helped by tax increases

Encouraging work among SNAP recipients

An executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday will require an estimated 47,000 able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD’s) in Louisiana to seek job counseling and training as a condition of receiving federal food assistance. Because of the state’s high unemployment rate, Louisiana currently has a waiver exempting it from a federal law that cuts off food assistance (SNAP) benefits after three months for single adults age 18-49 who aren’t working at least 20 hours a week. Louisiana has had such a waiver in place for more than 19 years – a reflection of the state’s struggling economy. But late last year then-Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to renew it, which would have left more than 30,000 Louisianans without food assistance had the decision not been reversed by Edwards as one of his first acts in office. The new executive order, which will go into effect July 1, reflects a compromise between the strict federal work requirements and the current waiver. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp has the details:


Under Edwards’ order, food stamp recipients will have to go to one of the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s 59 Business and Career Solutions Centers to seek job placement, application assistance and training. … Stand With Dignity, a grassroots group from New Orleans that was involved in a lawsuit challenging Jindal’s push for the work requirement, had organized hunger strikes and circulated petitions against reverting to the federal standards. On Wednesday, the group praised Edwards’ new plan. “Gov. Edwards’ order is a critical step towards addressing barriers to employment and building career ladders for people who have been excluded from work across Louisiana,” said the group’s organizer, Latoya Lewis. “This executive order recognizes the daily challenges of individuals surviving on government benefits and seeks to address these issues through programming that leads to meaningful and sustainable employment.”


LBP has written that failure to  renew the waiver would be counterproductive, since many adults who want to work simply can’t find jobs in today’s economy. The success of the latest plan will depend in large part on how it’s carried out, according to a statement from LBP Director Jan Moller:


This is a good plan on paper. The state should obviously do all it can to connect people with job-training and educational opportunities. The real test will come in the execution, and in making sure that people don’t fall through the cracks who need help putting food on the table. We all know Louisiana is in a budget crisis, and that DCFS and higher education have been particularly hard hit by cuts in recent years. For this plan to work properly the Legislature needs to make sure the agencies that are charged with carrying it out are adequately funded. It’s also critical that the rules are written in a way that provides exemptions for people who have legitimate reasons for needing them. Finally, we need to remember why Louisiana needed the federal waiver in the first place: Our economy is hurting right now, particularly in the energy sector, and so are thousands of our fellow citizens who want to be productive yet cannot find a job. They should not be subject to an arbitrary three-month cutoff.


“Sanctuary cities” bill approved by House panel

A bill addressing Louisiana cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials in detaining undocumented immigrants passed out of the House Judiciary committee without objection on Thursday. House bill 151 by Rep. Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs aims to incentivize compliance with federal immigration rules by banning “sanctuary cities” from receiving bonds from the State Bond Commission. The measure spurred lengthy debate in committee, and now heads to the full House floor for debate. Greater Baton rouge Business Report’s Gordon Brillon was there:


An original draft of the bill prevented sanctuary cities from receiving any state funding, but Hodges, along with Attorney General Jeff Landry, who testified in support of the bill, decided to lessen the punishment. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also testifying in support of the bill, said New Orleans and Lafayette are the state’s two sanctuary cities. The New Orleans Police Department, due to a clause in a 2012 agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, does not hold detainees for federal immigration officials, and Lafayette will only do so with a court order. … Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, took issue with one piece of the bill that he read as potentially allowing for racial profiling by police by allowing them to ask any person their citizenship status. He was satisfied by an amendment that, after several drafts and arguments, limited the question to those suspected of or witness to crimes.


Mass incarceration doesn’t pay

Two economists took to the New York Times opinion page this week to make the case against mass incarceration in the United States using simple cost-benefit analysis. Considering the long-term costs of mass incarceration, like increased recidivism and lack of employment for offenders after their release, the authors conclude that without addressing the country’s bloated prison population, American lawmakers will continue to make an irresponsible investment. According to the authors, it’s time to consider some alternatives:


On the benefit side of the equation, prisons and jails play an essential role in managing violent criminals and reducing crime, particularly helping people in poor communities who are the most likely to be victims of murder, robbery or other violent crimes. But a general rule in economics — the law of diminishing marginal benefits — applies to incarcerating additional people or adding years to sentences. Research finds that more incarceration has, at best, only a small effect on crime because our incarceration rate is already so high. As the prison population gets larger, the additional prisoner is more likely to be a less risky, nonviolent offender, and the value of incarcerating him (or, less likely, her) is low. … The bottom line: The putative benefits of more incarceration or longer sentences are actually costs. … There are other tools that can reduce crime more cost-effectively, including promoting employment and wage growth and investing in education. That is one reason that between 2008 and 2012, a majority of states were able to reduce incarceration and crime.


States helped by tax increases  

While many believe that raising state income tax rates is a deterrent for economic growth, recent evidence shows otherwise. A new blog post from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights California and Minnesota as case studies in how increased revenue can lead to better policy outcomes for states. Both states now see the benefits of higher quality schools, better pre-school programs, and expanded pro-work tax credits after raising new revenues in recent years to sustain the programs. Author Nick Albares explains:


California voters in 2012 raised income tax rates for the wealthiest residents, as well as the state’s sales tax, and dedicated the new revenue to education, which the state had cut deeply after the recession hit.  Those changes helped California raise K-12 funding per student by $1,800, as of last year, and better target those dollars to communities with the greatest need, likely improving the state’s workforce down the road. Minnesota in 2013 similarly raised income tax rates for its wealthiest residents, enabling the state to make a number of promising investments in education. … Both states have also taken steps to broaden the economic recovery for struggling families.  For example, California created an earned income tax credit in 2015 and Minnesota expanded its credit in 2014. Opponents often claim that raising income taxes on the wealthy will hurt a state’s economy, but both California and Minnesota are doing fine.  Since raising taxes, in fact, both state economies have grown faster than the nation as a whole.


Number of the Day

$30,000 – Average cost of incarcerating one adult for one year in the United States. (Source: The New York Times)