Devastation in the capital city
The historic flooding that has left large swaths of South Louisiana under water – and displaced tens of thousands of families – has strained the resources of local and state government, as well as nonprofit organizations that have stepped in to help. If you live in the Baton Rouge area, it’s a near-certainty that you, or someone close to you, has been personally affected.
For those seeking to help, there are many worthy organizations that accept donations of time, money and goods. Far too many to list here. One that’s sure to spend your donation dollars wisely is the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, which has set up a special flood relief fund. Residents can start the application process for federal relief by registering at disasterassistance.gov.
The Great Flood: Things to know
Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue has a helpful roundup of where things stand as of this morning: 11,000 people in shelters; 30,000 people rescued; more than 15,000 still without power. And seven reported deaths. And so much support from the community that shelters have stopped accepting donations of goods.
The governor’s office is encouraging people to hold off on making certain donations for now. The evacuees and survivors will need help in the weeks to come, but shelters are current overwhelmed with gifts. If you want to give something at this point, it is best to donate to the Red Cross or Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Celtic Media Centre in Baton Rouge — which is housing more than 2,000 survivors — does not have the capacity to accept any more donations at this time. Louisiana’s other large shelter, Baton Rouge River Center, has very specific needs. They want unused pillows, blankets, shoes, underwear and socks. People will be able to drop off those needs between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) is working to determine the impact on local businesses. President and CEO Adam Knapp is also providing tips for businesses seeking federal assistance. Alexandria Burris of the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report has the story:
Knapp wants individuals and businesses to know they can register for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They also can take advantage of programs from the U.S. Small Business Administration once the federal centers are open, he says. The SBA provides economic disaster injury loans to qualified small businesses and most nonprofit organizations in declared disaster areas that have suffered economic injury, regardless of physical damage.
The Advocate’s Chad Calder reports that only about 1 in 8 homes and businesses in the Baton Rouge region are covered by flood insurance, which means thousands of flood victims will be relying on their own resources – or the Federal Emergency Management Agency – to pay for needed repairs.
The figures for the four parishes that have been declared a federal disaster area are the most recent available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has announced a grant program that would provide up to $33,000 for anyone who flooded in that area and didn’t live in a neighborhood where flood insurance was required. While the number of people who fit that bill is expected to be high, it is not yet clear how high.
The 2018 fiscal cliff is official
As rainwater accumulated outside the Capitol on Friday, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget received an update on Louisiana’s finances. As expected, the state faces another massive gap between projected revenues and expenses when a series of temporary tax increases expire in 2018. That should serve as a reminder of the important revenue raising task facing the legislature in 2017. The Associated Press reports:
Louisiana’s lawmakers got an official number for the financial cliff they’ve created for themselves in 2018: nearly $1.5 billion. That’s how short the state budget will be in the 2018-19 fiscal year when taxes passed earlier this year by lawmakers – mainly a 1 percent state sales tax increase – hit their expiration dates. The financial update was presented Friday to the joint House and Senate budget committee.
Deep poverty worsens under 1996 welfare law
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is 20 years old this month. In many states, support for those most in need has dropped precipitously as states divert TANF funds to fill budget holes in other areas. Louisiana exemplifies this trend, with only 4 out of every 100 poor families receiving assistance. LaDonna Pavetti and Liz Schott at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have more on what this means for families struggling to make ends meet:
Under TANF, the number of children living in deep poverty — with incomes below half the poverty line, using a comprehensive poverty measure — has risen significantly, placing large numbers of children at risk for long-term negative academic, employment, and health outcomes. The share of children below half of the poverty line rose from 2.1 percent to 3.0 percent between 1995 and 2005, and the number of children in deep poverty rose from 1.5 million to 2.2 million.
Pavetti and Schott also provide recommendations for reform at the federal level:
Despite the rhetoric about the success of the 1996 welfare law that created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, the facts show otherwise. The good news is that TANF can improve with changes in the TANF law. Policymakers should focus on strengthening TANF as a safety net, making it a more effective work program, and ensuring that money is directed to TANF’s core activities — work, work supports, and basic cash assistance. We should no longer accept a situation where nearly 2 million children live in deep poverty, largely due to TANF’s failure to provide assistance to the families most in need of assistance. TANF’s performance doesn’t offer much to celebrate on its 20th anniversary, but Congress can change this course.
Number of the Day
$1.5 billion – The projected size of Louisiana’s expected budget shortfall after temporary taxes expire in 2018. (Source: Associated Press)