Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Jindal’s education agenda lives on; Medicaid expansion helps Monroe hospital stay open; TANF: 20 years later; and Where are the plans for affordable childcare?

Jindal’s education agenda lives on

Gov. Bobby Jindal left office in January amid dismal approval ratings from lawmakers and the public. But as The Advocate’s columnist Stephanie Grace points out, major parts of his policy legacy are likely to live on. Jindal’s K-12 education reforms look as if they’re here to stay, despite Gov. John Bel Edwards’ attempts to rein in school vouchers for private school tuition and the expansion of charter schools:

 

In hindsight, it’s really not surprising that these moves would run into trouble. Edwards ran for governor with early and strong support from teachers unions and local school board leaders, and he didn’t deny his priorities aligned with theirs. But he also didn’t actively promote his education agenda in speeches or ads aimed at a wider audience. And despite Edwards’ easy win last November, other results suggest elementary and secondary education wasn’t an issue that drove voters to him. The same electorate that handed Edwards a decisive victory over David Vitter also chose a Legislature that generally favors charter schools and other components of the school choice movement that Jindal had championed. It also elected a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education majority that supports the so-called reform movement, and that is sticking with Education Superintendent John White even though Edwards said during the campaign that he should be replaced. Weakening the governor’s hand still further is the fact that there are plenty of school choice proponents within his own Democratic base, particularly in New Orleans. His early failure to get his favored House speaker elected resulted in an unfriendly education committee in the lower chamber. And even in the Senate, where President John Alario made assignments aimed at giving the governor a chance to succeed, there was significant opposition.

 

Medicaid expansion helps Monroe hospital stay open

The budget savings that Louisiana will see from Medicaid expansion are allowing a safety-net hospital in Monroe to keep its doors open next year. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the budget proposed for the upcoming fiscal year beginning does not include enough funds to keep all of the state’s public-private partnership hospitals open. But University Health Conway, a vital safety net hospital that was previously slated for closure, will be able to keep its doors open. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reports that it’s due to the $184 million in savings expected as a result of the governor’s executive order that expands Medicaid coverage and allows federal health care dollars to replace state spending:

 

Without the estimated $184 million savings from the Medicaid expansion, Edwards said, Conway would have suffered the same fate as four other safety net hospitals that are slated for closure because of deep budget cuts. “I was able to go back and put Conway into the budget,” Edwards said. “I know how important it is to health care, graduate medical education and the economy in northeastern Louisiana.” Edwards was among the statewide elected officials and local lawmakers who spoke during Northern Exposure, which is coordinated by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and considered a signature event. It’s the largest annual citizen lobbying caravan in the state. … He delivered a somber report on the budget, which has a projected $600 million deficit in the 2016-17 fiscal year that begins July 1 but said, “There are better days ahead.” “I’m asking you to share my optimism about our future and our resolve to fix the present,” the governor said.

 

TANF: 20 years later

It’s been 20 years since the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was born, which replaced the old federal welfare program with a block grant that states can distribute under rules established by Congress. TANF established work requirements and time limits for recipients of the benefits – policies that were meant to discourage dependence on government. But the poverty rate remains stubbornly high, and the safety net program is leaving millions of low-income Americans behind. Clyde Haberman with the New York Times takes a look back at the program’s 20-year run, and highlights some sobering truths about its ineffectiveness in recent years:

 

While initially effective in getting people off welfare, the system proved far less nimble at making them financially sound. Even when they found jobs, the wages tended to nudge them barely above the poverty line. And, all too often, they had a hard time staying employed when the economy soured. …  Those federal block grants did not bring salvation, either. For starters, the annual total, $16.5 billion, has remained frozen for 20 years, meaning they are worth one-third less than they were in 1996. States may use the money as they wish, even if it means straying far from the original intent. Instead of becoming cash subsidies to destitute families or underwriting job-training programs, the grants are commonly used to finance college scholarships or child care arrangements — or simply to plug holes in state budgets. … Plainly, government cash payments are not what they used to be. In 1996 they went to 68 percent of families with children that qualified as impoverished, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group in Washington. Now they go to 23 percent. In some states, the figure is minuscule: 8 percent in Arizona, 5 percent in Texas, 4 percent in Louisiana.

 

Where are the plans for affordable childcare?

Presidential politics have brought the debate about soaring student debt into the forefront. But there’s one expense that often eats up a larger portion of American families’ budgets, and rarely gets much attention. Childcare costs are in many cities higher than families’ living expenses, a reality that puts working families at a disadvantage. Sara Mead, contributor to U.S. News and World Report argues that bringing childcare subsidies more in line with what the federal government spends on those for higher education would be a step in the right direction:

 

And while student loan debt has been a big issue on the campaign trail this year, families struggling with child care costs have no access to the kind of subsidized loans available to help finance college. Nor to the 529 plans or other tax-subsidized savings vehicles that middle-class families use to save for college. Citing the vast difference in support to help families pay for child care and college may seem like whining for another federal handout. While Americans have traditionally viewed funding higher education as a smart investment in helping people build their skills and enter a pathway to economic mobility – a “hand up, not a hand out” – child care assistance is still viewed largely as welfare for poor families. Yet this perception is out of step with recent research documenting the crucial importance of early learning and development to children’s long-term success. Funding for child care today can also help increase parents’ (particularly mothers’) long-term economic potential and ability to support their children. … More broadly, our current allocation of funding between higher education and early childhood programs is simply out of whack with research on where human capital investment yields the greatest payoff. Increasing investments in college affordability, without comparable attention to supporting families with young children, will only exacerbate this misalignment.

 

Number of the Day

4 percent – Share of Louisiana’s families living in poverty who receive cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal block grant. (Source: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)