Aug. 24: Loosen the federal purse strings

Aug. 24: Loosen the federal purse strings

As President Obama visited the flood-stricken Baton Rouge area on Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards used the occasion to press for more federal resources.

As President Obama visited the flood-stricken Baton Rouge area on Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards used the occasion to press for more federal resources. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports, Edwards wants the federal government to reduce the state’s cost-share requirement for FEMA assistance from 25 percent to 10 percent and new dollars for a flood-control project that might have mitigated some of the flooding had it been in place when the rain fell earlier this month.

(Edwards) said well over 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and that in March more than 29,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in flooding in north Louisiana, as well as damages to public roads, buildings and bridges. ‘I therefore ask you to reduce Louisiana’s cost share from 25 percent to 10 percent,’ Edwards said in his letter. The governor asked Obama to authorize $125 million for the Army Corps of Engineers for the federal share of the project, which has already won congressional authorization. In a third area, Edwards requested block grant disaster recovery dollars be included in the president’s supplemental budget request to Congress since many homeowners lacked flood insurance, or were not required to carry it.”

But Jeff Adelson reports on a potential snag: the fact that three Louisiana congressmen voted against a federal aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013, which may not be easily forgotten in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.


Now that the shoe is on the other foot in the wake of a week’s worth of devastating floods in parts of Louisiana, some of those East Coast lawmakers say they won’t make Louisiana suffer for the votes of its representatives back then. But they see Louisiana’s plea for federal help now as highlighting the hypocrisy of the earlier votes by Rep. Steve Scalise, now the third-ranking member in the House; Rep. John Fleming; and Rep. Bill Cassidy, who now represents the state in the Senate. “They don’t get it until they get hit on the side of the head themselves by a two-by-four and everything’s supposed to stop. All of a sudden it’s, ‘This is different; this is oranges and apples,’ ” said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from Paterson, New Jersey.


So what’s the value of a presidential visit? The Advocate’s editorial board argues that seeing the devastation up close will make leaders more likely to support additional federal aid, and urges members of Congress to follow suit.


Seeing is still believing, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated. In the days immediately after the storm, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert questioned whether Congress should approve the money required to help make New Orleans whole. “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” he infamously observed. But after visiting the city, Hastert played a constructive role in getting federal aid approved. Now disgraced and in federal prison, Hastert rarely gets mentioned as an exemplar of public conduct these days. But his conversion on Katrina underscores the abiding virtue of thinking about public policy at ground zero of an urgent national need, and not from the comfortable remove of a congressional cloak room.


Head Start really works (cont…)

Critics of the Head Start program have said the gains are short-lived, and that minimal impact on cognitive and socio-emotional indicators tend to diminish by third grade. The Hamilton Project, however, says that effects are significant. Adults who attended Head Start were more likely to have finished high school, attend college and earn a degree than those who did not. There is also evidence that Head Start graduates invest more in their children by reading to them and forging secure attachments that are critical to future success. Emily Badger in The Washington Post:


As adults, blacks in particular rated better on indicators of noncognitive skills such as planning and problem-solving. And as parents, the children of Head Start appear to invest more in their own children, suggesting that years after the government’s initial investment, the program could indirectly touch a second generation. “The news is that these measures moved. That’s exciting,” says Diane Schanzenbach, the director of the Hamilton Project and one of the co-authors of the research, along with Lauren Bauer.


More students, fewer resources

Rising enrollment and stagnant or declining funding are creating a bleak trend in the public schools around the country. While each state has its own challenges, Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows how many districts are still not investing in schools the way they were before the 2008 Great Recession.


At least 25 states provided less “general” funding per student last year than in 2008, before the recession took hold.  In seven states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent. Some 45 percent of school funding comes from localities, and that’s down in many states as well.  Local funding per student fell in 31 states between the 2008 and 2014 school years. Federal funding, which covers the rest of school budgets, is also being squeezed.  The largest federal education program, “Title I” funding for high-poverty schools, is 4 percent below its 2008 level after adjusting for inflation. Funding for school construction and other school capital projects has fallen sharply. School capital spending by states and localities fell an astonishing 37 percent between 2008 and 2014 (the latest year available), after adjusting for inflation. The number of school workers — including teachers, librarians, nurses, and other staff — has fallen by 241,000 since peaking in August 2008.  Over roughly the same period, the number of children enrolled in schools has risen by about 1.1 million.


Low-income fatherhood

Children fare better when their fathers are involved in their lives. But public policy doesn’t do enough to support fathers in low-income families. The American Prospect’s Natasha J. Cabrera and Ron Mincy look at the problem, including the role that strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit could play in improving things.


The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) [is] now the largest program in our arsenal to reduce poverty. Because it was intended to reduce poverty through work, the credit depends on earnings, other income, and the number of children. For example, childless workers get up to $500 from the EITC; if the same worker has two kids, the credit is more than ten times as much. Paradoxically, the EITC treats noncustodial parents, usually fathers, as if they were childless workers even if they pay all the child support they owe, which is not tax-deductible. At the same time, a mother who works and has custody of the children receives as much as $5,500 per year. Because the parent who has custody bears more of the cost of raising children, she should get a bigger EITC than the other parent. But besides helping low-income working parents provide for their children, the EITC is also supposed to encourage work. From this vantage point, the tenfold differential between what mothers and nonresident fathers receive from the EITC makes no sense.


Number of the day

37 percent– Decline in spending on public school construction and maintenance by states and municipalities from 2008 to 2015 (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)