Oct. 3: Poor residents face toughest rebuild

Oct. 3: Poor residents face toughest rebuild

The catastrophic floods that hit the Baton Rouge region in August did not discriminate, hitting rich, poor and middle class neighborhoods all the same.

The catastrophic floods that hit the Baton Rouge region in August did not discriminate, hitting rich, poor and middle class neighborhoods all the same. But as The Advocate’s Steve Hardy reports, people in low-income areas will have a “rebuild that is slower, tougher and more bound in red tape than the wealthier folks across town. Many may never come back home.”

To begin understanding the impending challenges, it is helpful to think of low-income neighborhoods as two communities, each with its own set of problems, said Carlos Martín, a researcher at the Urban Institute who studies housing and community policies. First, there are the renters who were made homeless by the flood and are unlikely to return any time soon while their landlords navigate the path toward rebuilding. Then there are the folks who own their homes outright — including houses that have been in families for generations. Many of those old homes are behind on their repairs, and a foot of water inside did much more catastrophic damage than a foot in newer construction. Mortgages that required flood insurance have long been paid off, so many owners let their coverage lapse. They’ll need government assistance to start rebuilding or start over, but first they’ll have to jump through legal hoops just to prove who owns the property. 


Tax fix delayed

The task force charged with coming up with fixes for Louisiana’s broken tax structure has postponed its report until Nov. 1 – the second time the deadline has been extended by a month. As star reporter Melinda Deslatte of the AP notes, task force members have reached consensus on some of the big concepts, but need time to negotiate the fine print.

(Revenue Secretary Kimberly) Robinson said the task force has agreed the state sales tax should drop from 5 cents on every dollar spent to 4 cents; the sales tax should be expanded to cover services, like cable television and residential repairs; and the state should get rid of the individual income tax deduction people get for the federal taxes they paid. Disagreement lingers on whether and how the task force should suggest changes to property tax laws, including a lucrative tax exemption that manufacturing facilities get from paying local property taxes and a pricey tax credit the state gives to businesses to refund the local property taxes they paid on their inventory. Also still up for discussion with the task force is the broader issue of how the state should rework its tangled tax and spending relationship with local government.


Our broken indigent defense system

The Nola.com/The Times-Picayune editorial board weighs in on the recent investigation by the Marshall Project which found that poor people accused of crimes in Louisiana rarely get a fair shake because of the state’s shameful neglect of its indigent defense system. As the investigation detailed, chronic funding shortfalls mean indigent defendants sometimes get assigned lawyers with little or no experience in criminal law.

Imagine Medicaid promising its beneficiaries that they can see a doctor when they’re sick and then directing somebody with a chronic headache to a podiatrist. Imagine a man with high PSA being sent to a gynecologist or a woman with a new, suspicious looking mole being sent to an orthopedist – or maybe an orthodontist. If you can imagine such absurdities, then you have a better understanding of what it’s like for criminal suspects who are facing years – if not decades – in prison to be assigned real estate attorneys or personal injury attorneys or tax attorneys to fight for them. … The Louisiana Legislature has been derelict in its duty to provide funding for indigent defense. Lawmakers routinely ignore poor Louisianians. Poor people accused of crimes get even shorter shrift from the state. However, there is a Constitution that guarantees that poor defendants have legal representation, and the state is all but flouting it when it assigns attorneys who by their own admission don’t know how to do the job they’re being asked to do.


The benefits of raising the wage

Economist Heather Boushey, writing in the New York Times, wonders if the recent good news about median incomes (which rose 5.2 percent in 2015 – the largest gain since recordkeeping started in 1967) is due to the fact that many states and localities have raised their minimum wage. While it’s impossible to say that minimum wage hikes are responsible for the recent gains, the recent Census numbers do cast doubt on the claims by some economists that the minimum wage hurts the poor by killing jobs.

Given that so many places have raised their minimum wage, this is proof at the very least that policies to increase the minimum wage happened alongside real income gains at the national level. An economist’s caution, however, is that correlation is not causation, meaning that just because the two things happened along a time line that makes sense, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other. … What the recent upticks in income and decline in poverty tell us is that we have to seriously consider that raising the minimum wage has done more good than harm. When we combine the income data with the fact that we continue to be amid the longest job-creating recovery since the end of World War II — when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics first began tabulating this data — it’s hard to argue that improving the lives of workers is a bad thing.


Number of the Day

12,911 – Number of Baton Rouge-area houses that flooded in Census tracts with median annual incomes below $36,000 per year (Source: The Advocate)