Sept. 28: Private prisons dealt budget cut

Sept. 28: Private prisons dealt budget cut

Louisiana’s perilous fiscal situation may result in less medical care and educational opportunities for state inmates. Two private prisons will be converted into jails, still operated privately but with fewer services. The funding drawdown comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to get out of the private prison business altogether, deeming them more dangerous and less effective than traditional prisons. Julia O’Donoghue of Times-Picayune has more:

Private prisons also don’t have a particularly good reputation for medical care. Poor health services are part of the reason the federal government is phasing out its use of private prisons. And among those the federal government is cutting ties with is The Geo Group, which runs the Allen Correctional Center. But the state’s decision to convert its private prisons into jails is an extension of an existing policy that Louisiana has used for years to save money. Since 1977, the state corrections agency has been housing many of its inmates in local jails in addition to state prisons, where expensive services don’t have to be provided.


The state’s reliance on local jails that provide few services to inmates is cited as a reason for the high rate of inmates returning to prison after their initial release.


Local jails are designed to hold people over a relatively short term. It’s hit or miss over whether they have educational programs, drug counseling and other services that might benefit people serving longer-term sentences and equip them to stay out of trouble when they are released. Some of the larger jails, East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parishes for example, have programs for the inmates. Others have little overall. This may explain why the recidivism rate — the rate at which an inmate commits crimes again once they are released — is higher for state inmates housed in local jails, than for those in state prisons.


TOPS cuts leave students, families scrambling

State budget cuts are leaving TOPS recipients scrambling for ways to finance their spring semesters. This particularly impacts low-income TOPS scholars and their families who don’t have the resources to make up the 30 percent cut. Della Hasselle of Gambit explains how the cuts are hitting families and the steps universities are taking to help their students.

Adam Norris, chief communications officer for the University of New Orleans, said the school “took great pains” to tell students about how they might avail themselves of additional aid to help fill the gap created by TOPS changes. According to Norris, the most important instruction was to tell students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out all the aid they’d be eligible for. Through FAFSA, students can learn whether they qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, which can provide up to $5,500 per year, or a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), which can offer up to $4,000 per year. At the state level, certain low- to moderate-income students might also be eligible for a Louisiana Go Grant, which can provide up to $3,000 per academic year.


One promising idea gaining traction among education advocates has been to provide full TOPS funding for families that need it most, as described by Tulane professor Douglas N. Harris in a recent op/ed. The estimated $100 million in savings from the proposal could then be plowed into the underfunded Go Grants program.


Medicaid expansion yielding many benefits

Even as health reform extends coverage to millions of Americans, stories of insurers leaving the health marketplaces along with rising premiums in some places have critics pouncing on President Obama’s signature law. Both presidential candidates advocate for at least some changes, with Hillary Clinton pushing a “public option” to compete with private insurers in the marketplaces and Donald Trump pushing for complete repeal. Yet the discussion of the impact of the ACA often leaves out Medicaid expansion, which has proven to be a wise investment for the federal government and states. Aaron E. Carroll from The New York Times’ Upshot blog has that story:

At a national level, the expansion of Medicaid continues to yield benefits. Its coverage was increased, and its quality raised. Some states that have expanded Medicaid are even expecting net savings for the next few years. In states where Medicaid was expanded, hospitals had fewer uninsured visits.


Andrea Callow from Families USA highlights some of the screenings that the newly insured in Louisiana have received through Medicaid expansion:

  • More than 1,000 women have received mammograms or other diagnostic breast imaging and 24 of these women are currently being treated for breast cancer.
  • Nearly 700 adults have received colonoscopies and more than 100 had polyps, an early sign of colon cancer, removed during the procedure.
  • 160 adults have been newly diagnosed with diabetes and have started receiving necessary care to help them manage their condition.


Flood, Flint aid breakthrough

The government funding bill that contained $500 million for flood relief in Louisiana failed to advance in the Senate, but an emerging deal may breathe new life into the legislation. A major hang-up had been the lack of funding for Flint, Michigan’s recovery from lead-contaminated pipes. Politico is reporting that an agreement would get money to Flint through a separate bill, the Water Resources Development Act.


Late Tuesday, congressional leaders made headway on at least one part of the multi-layered discussions: (House Democratic Leader Nancy) Pelosi and (Speaker of the House Paul) Ryan agreed to incorporate an amendment to the sweeping waters legislation that would add about $170 million in federal aid for Flint. “The amendment represents a bipartisan agreement between Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi to allow germane authorization language to be added to WRDA as an amendment that will, at the end of the day, provide the necessary funding Flint needs in the final WRDA conference report,” a Pelosi aide said late Tuesday night. The water resources legislation could head to the House floor as early as Wednesday.


Number of the Day

1.2 – Percentage increase in Louisianans’ personal income from the second quarter of 2016, compared to the first quarter. The increase is the 10th highest among states. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)