Special session wears on

Special session wears on

The House is devoting its Friday session to debating a pair of GOP budget-cutting proposals that would cut money for hospitals, prisons, schools and other state services beyond the $60 million proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The House is devoting its Friday session to debating a pair of GOP budget-cutting proposals that would cut money for hospitals, prisons, schools and other state services beyond the $60 million proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The AP’s star reporter Melinda Deslatte has more on the plans, noting that legislators who support the governor’s plan to use $119 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to offset the cuts will try to amend the bills on the floor:

Democrats can try to keep pushing the governor’s plan, with attempts to rewrite one of the two budget-rebalancing bills up for debate Friday to include the Edwards approach. The first proposal, sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would use nearly $75 million from Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund. It would cut state financing for public colleges, K-12 public schools and state prisons, areas Edwards sought to shield. And it would make larger cuts to the state health department than the governor wanted. The second plan, sponsored by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, wouldn’t use rainy day fund money at all. It would deepen cuts to health programs and other agencies, but would spare colleges and prisons. The Edwards administration, however, would have to dole out another $60 million in cuts, aimed at eliminating dollars earmarked for unfilled state jobs.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue reports on a proposal from House Speaker Taylor Barras that would shift money from various accounts to make-up budget shortfalls. It wouldn’t help with the current mid-year deficit and was quickly criticized by Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

Also part of the overall negotiations is a money-moving strategy pushed by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R- New Iberia. His proposal would take almost $100 million from a number of accounts — including TOPS, K-12 education and public defender funding — and free it up for other purposes. It does nothing to solve the current budget crisis, but could help get Republicans who don’t want to use rainy day money on board with Henry’s plan, according to the Republicans. It would be put into place for the next fiscal year, starting July 1. The Edwards administration has serious reservations about Barras’ tactic. Dardenne said it would be a “nightmare” to implement and cuts too many priorities, such as the TOPS program. Barras has argued that any important fund being cut under his proposal could be “backfilled” with other money later. He and Henry also said budget-fixing strategies shouldn’t be avoided just because they are complicated.


The latest ACA “replacement” plan

Congressional Republicans released an outline of an ACA “replacement.” The plan lacks a mechanism to ensure that low-income adults have health care coverage, gives greater benefits to the wealthy, and fails to address out-of-pocket premium costs for struggling families. Most significantly for Louisiana, the plan would repeal the Medicaid expansion that has brought coverage to more than 400,000 Louisiana adults, and would shift Medicaid’s financing to a per capita cap system, significantly increasing costs for the state. The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz writes for its Upshot blog.

Now we have the outline of that plan, and it looks as if it would redirect federal support away from poorer Americans and toward people who are wealthier…It would substantially cut funding for states in providing free insurance to low-income adults through Medicaid. And it would change how tax credits are distributed by giving all Americans not covered through work a flat credit by age, regardless of income. That means that the biggest financial benefits would go to older Americans, like, say, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If he didn’t have a job in the Trump cabinet and access to government coverage, a 64-year-old multimillionaire like him would get the same amount of financial assistance as someone his age, living in poverty, and he would get substantially more money than a poor, young person. It would allow Americans to sock more money away for health spending in special tax-free health savings accounts. The benefits of such accounts fall largely to higher income-people who pay more in taxes.

Jacob Leibenluft, Edwin Park, Judith Solomon, and Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provide a detailed analysis and explain how the Medicaid expansion would be eviscerated under the plan:

Specifically, the proposal would end the enhanced federal match for the currently enrolled Medicaid expansion population after a limited period of time.  While states would technically have the option to continue covering the more than 10 million people who newly gained coverage (and others who would become eligible), they would, by a set date, have to pay between 2.5 and 5 times as much per person to do so.  The large cut in federal funding would effectively force states to choose between coverage for low-income adults and coverage for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Given this choice, the proposal amounts to ending the expansion, while shifting the blame to states.

Citizens who want to weigh in on health-care changes can do so at a series of town hall events hosted by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy. Dates and times are:

Feb 21, 4 p.m., Live Oak High School Cafeteria, Denham Springs

Feb 22, 3:30 p.m., East Jefferson Parish Library, Metairie

Feb 23, 9 a.m., Harang Municipal Auditorium on Canal Blvd, (Maywood Room on left hand side of the building), Thibodaux

Feb 24, 9:30 a.m., Breaux Bridge City Hall, 120 Berard Street, Breaux Bridge


Superintendents divided on letter grade changes

School superintendents across the state aren’t united on a plan from the Department of Education to revise the letter grades given to schools each year. The Advocate’s Will Sentell details the debate:

(Louisiana Superintendent of Education John) White wants 25 percent of school performance scores to stem from annual academic growth, which critics say would distort letter grades that are linked to the scores. The plan also revamps tests schedules, charts new ways to help struggling public schools and spells out steps to help teachers. The federal law requires states to show how they plan to measure academic skills, report those results to parents and other taxpayers and how they plan to spend the federal aid.


Race and anti-poverty programs

Working-age white people without college degrees are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, according to new research from Isaac Shapiro, Danilo Trisi and Raheem Chesney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Even though African American and Hispanic people experience higher poverty rates than whites, the number of working-age white people lifted out of poverty surpasses that of all other non-college-educated groups combined. Ronald Brownstein has the story in The Atlantic.

[A]fter accounting for the impact of federal anti-poverty and income-support programs- including Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known formerly as food stamps), Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (generally described as welfare), and the earned-income and children’s tax credits- 6.2 million of those non-college-educated white adults were raised above the poverty line. That reduced their poverty rate to less than one in seven, and meant that government benefits lifted fully 44 percent of otherwise poor, non-college-educated whites above the poverty line. House Republicans have repeatedly passed budgets that impose significant reductions on government anti-poverty programs, but those plans were mostly stymied in the Senate or by former President Obama. Now, with unified control of Washington, the GOP has a much clearer path toward enacting those cuts. But, as with the drive to repeal the ACA, they face the risk of withdrawing government benefits that many of their own voters rely on.


DSNAP approved for tornado relief

Victims of last week’s tornadoes are eligible for emergency food assistance through the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. A map of the affected area and eligible residents can be found here. The DSNAP location in Orleans Parish will be open Feb. 21 – 24, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Southern University New Orleans Conference Center, 4101 Emmet W. Bashful Dr. More information is available here.


Number of the Day

$1.1 billion – Amount of cost that would be shifted from the federal government to Louisiana taxpayers in 2017-18 fiscal year if state’s Medicaid match rate for the expansion population is raised to 36.7 percent, as House Republicans are proposing. (Source: LBP research)