Feb. 1: Drug disparities in the capital city

Feb. 1: Drug disparities in the capital city

The rate of drug use among people in Baton Rouge, as elsewhere, doesn’t vary much by race or by household income, according to studies.

The rate of drug use among people in Baton Rouge, as elsewhere, doesn’t vary much by race or by household income, according to studies. But the chance of getting arrested for drug possession is up to 500 percent higher in zip codes where poorer, mostly black people live compared to zip codes where mostly white people reside in East Baton Rouge Parish. That’s according to a new report from Together Baton Rouge unveiled at a community meeting on Tuesday. The Advocate’s Bryn Stole reports:

The report, (TBR lead organizer Broderick) Bagert said, doesn’t show “evidence of intentional, willful discrimination” by the police. But Bagert said the end result — that poor or black residents have a far higher chance of being popped for simple possession than wealthier, white residents — is still problematic. … John Pierre, the chancellor of Southern University Law Center, said an overhaul of the state’s drug laws — including slashing penalties for simple possession or decriminalizing marijuana — would free up police resources to focus on other crimes and ease a burden on poorer neighborhoods.


Louisiana health and housing efforts earn praise

Louisiana’s efforts to link disabled homeless people with permanent housing was cited as a “best practice” in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief by Julia Paradise and Donna Cohen Ross. The state’s success has been accomplished through the Medicaid program- maligned by some in the Legislature- and is an important example of the versatility of the program. Notably, this effort has spanned the administrations of Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal and John Bel Edwards.

Louisiana reports a 94 percent housing retention rate among the households that have entered the PSH (Permanent Supportive Housing) program since it began housing tenants in 2008. “Retention” is defined as remaining in a PSH unit or moving on to another stable housing situation. A preliminary analysis by the Louisiana Department of Health shows statistically significant reductions in hospitalizations and emergency department utilization after the PSH intervention. And, an early independent analysis of the PSH program’s impact on Medicaid spending, based on 2011-2012 data, found a 24 percent reduction in Medicaid acute care costs after a person was housed. The state also tracks the impact of PSH on household income, as tenants often receive assistance with finding employment or pursuing Social Security Disability benefits. In a study of PSH households in the New Orleans region, where the program is most mature, nearly 55 percent of households reported an increase in income following entry into the program.


ACA sabotage watch

President Donald Trump’s administration has already taken steps to potentially destabilize health care markets. Some health advocates fear that the administration intends to weaken the Affordable Care Act as a way to both build the case for its repeal and to set a lower bar for how many people a “replacement” would need to cover in order to satisfy promises by GOP leaders that “no one will lose coverage.” In response, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has established a “Sabotage Watch” that will regularly document actions taken by the administration to diminish health coverage. CBPP Senior Policy Analyst Shelby Gonzalez has the first installment:

Contrary to claims by ACA repeal proponents like President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan that insurance markets are in a “death spiral” – and reported efforts by Republicans to encourage insurers to say they won’t participate in the exchanges – the Administration inherited a health insurance marketplace that was enabling millions of Americans to find affordable coverage. Enrollment in the individual market has grown each year since the ACA took full effect, even in areas where premiums rose, and this year’s sign-ups have roughly matched last year’s so far. A key question is whether the Administration will build on that progress or undermine it.


Decades-old desegregation case settled

The U.S. Justice Department reached a deal with St. James Parish schools to settle a desegregation case that started in the 1960s. The school district must still demonstrate compliance with the agreement over the next three years. The AP’s Kevin McGill has the story:

Renewed efforts to desegregate three nearly all-black elementary schools and recruit a diverse faculty and staff are part of a new agreement between a south Louisiana school district and the Justice Department in a federal court case that dates back to 1965. If all of the agreement’s requirements are met, federal supervision of the schools in St. James Parish could end in three years.

In addition to being a matter of basic justice, research shows that integrated schools lead to academic, civic, and economic benefits for all children.


Number of the Day

9.98 – Average combined state and local sales tax rate in Louisiana, the highest combined sales tax rate in the country. (Source: The Tax Foundation via Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)