National Flood Insurance Program set to expire

National Flood Insurance Program set to expire

Members of Congress have a long to-do list awaiting them when they return from August recess, and one thing sure to be at the top of that list is re-authorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Number of the Day

66 -  Percentage of minimum wage workers in Louisiana who are women.  (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Members of Congress have a long to-do list awaiting them when they return from August recess, and one thing sure to be at the top of that list is re-authorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The federally subsidized insurance program –  which expires Sept. 30 –  provides critical protections to thousands of families in Louisiana and millions of flood prone households across the country.  Along with federal disaster recovery funds, NFIP will be critical to Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, and Congress could use this opportunity not only to reauthorize the program but also to improve it. Stephanie Riegel with the Baton Rouge Business Report:  

[LSU geography professor Craig] Colten says ideally a restructured NFIP would expand the pool of those required to carry flood insurance from those who live in a 100-year floodplain to those who live within the 500-year floodplain. “That would spread the risk and make it more affordable for everyone,” he says. “Especially if you allow private insurers to begin selling flood insurance, then you absolutely have to expand the pool.” But that isn’t likely to happen, especially now, predicts LSU Law Professor Edward Richards, who has written on coastal and floodplain issues. … Whatever the NFIP reauthorization bill ultimately looks like, Colten believes the country’s latest natural disaster could ultimately result in a better system, which would ultimately be good for Louisiana and other flood-prone areas.

As Harvey’s rains continue to fall on southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, high-level discussions have already begun about when and how much disaster recovery funding Congress will need to appropriate, which could be problematic for those in Louisiana still recovering from last year’s floods:

In the short term, however, both Colten and Richards predict Louisiana will suffer as a result of the disaster—among other reasons, because its outstanding request for federal disaster relief aid from the 2016 flood will likely now fall by the wayside.


Preempting progress

Louisiana has the nation’s highest percentage of hourly workers who earn at or below the minimum wage, and an overwhelming majority of residents support establishing a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum.  Still, the Louisiana Legislature has repeatedly rejected proposals to do so, and in 2012, state lawmakers went a step further by passing a bill that tied the hands of local governments by prohibiting them from establishing local minimum wage or paid leave ordinances. A new report by Marni von Wilpert of the Economic Policy Institute analyzes the history, impact, and increasing prevalence of such “preemption laws:”

Ironically, state preemption of labor standards has historically been used for good: to ensure that minimum labor standards are applied statewide. It is only in recent years that it has been so frequently used to take earnings and protections away from workers. … Since the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans began to gain control over an increasing number of state legislatures, states have been using “preemption laws” to strike down local government efforts to improve the working conditions of their residents. In fact, many states are stripping away an entire package of basic labor and employment rights from workers in cities, including the ability for workers to earn paid sick days, work under fair shift-scheduling practices, and earn prevailing wages in safe, stable conditions on local government-funded construction projects.


Medicaid and Medicare buy-in

Proposals to allow Americans to buy into Medicare or Medicaid have started to percolate in Congress, so researchers set out to answer the lingering question: could public insurance programs really deliver the same level of care as private insurance at a lower price? Their promising findings are spelled out by health economist Austin Frakt in the New York Times’ Upshot blog:

Despite concerns to the contrary, Medicaid patients don’t appear to be seeing lower-quality doctors,” said Dr. Michael Barnett, lead author of the study, a physician with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Though raising the prices Medicaid pays doctors may increase physician participation, enhancing enrollees’ access to care, it isn’t likely to change the quality of care patients receive once they are in the doctor’s office….In a way, this is good news — the medical system doesn’t seem to discriminate by insurance status. It also means that public programs appear to be relatively cost-efficient, spending less than private payers for care of similar quality.


Keeping kids out of court

Last week the New Orleans City Council took a significant step toward reducing the number of youth who are arrested, after the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights presented disturbing data regarding the racial breakdown of youth in the city who are charged with a crime. But, as The Times Picayune/ columnist Jarvis DeBerry points out, there’s still much work to be done to reduce racial disparities in the city’s criminal justice system:

It is good news, but it appears that the council members are overselling the impact this ordinance will have.  Reducing the number of arrests won’t by itself address the problem that almost all the young people being arrested are black. The City Council’s ordinance addresses troubling statistics regarding minor offenses.  But we know that that’s not where the only problems are. When the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released its 2011 report about the New Orleans Police Department, it cited a statistic from 2009 that showed that the department had “arrested 500 African-American males and eight white males under the age of 17 for serious offenses.” For girls in that age range, the numbers were 65 black people arrested and one white person.


Number of the Day

66 –  Percentage of minimum wage workers in Louisiana who are women.  (Source: Economic Policy Institute)