House considers draconian budget bill

House considers draconian budget bill

House Republicans leaders are pushing for passage of a state budget bill (House Bill 1) that would threaten the state’s health care system and put tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities at risk.

Number of the Day

$1.40 - the amount a family receives per person per meal with the average monthly SNAP benefit level. (Source: CBPP)

House Republicans leaders are pushing for passage of a state budget bill (House Bill 1) that would threaten the state’s health care system and put tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities at risk.  Only a simple majority – 53 votes – is needed to pass HB 1, but the vote is expected to to be fairly close. Melinda Deslatte of AP reports:

With 61 Republicans in the House, the math would seem to be easy ahead of Thursday’s debate. But some GOP lawmakers are concerned about cuts proposed to health programs for the poor, elderly and people with disabilities. Slashing that, health officials warn, could shutter safety-net hospitals and clinics and devastate medical training programs.

Even if HB 1 gets out of the House today, the bill is unlikely to get through the Senate in its current form. Gov. Edwards’ spokesman, Richard Carbo, released a statement:

[Governor Edwards] has already said this bill has no chance of becoming law, and he is encouraging the Legislature to rally behind a plan that can generate bipartisan support that adequately funds programs the people of Louisiana consider to be priorities.

While the budget bill fully funds the TOPS scholarship program, it proposes deep cuts to health care services that could result in hospital and nursing home closures. Julia O’Donoghue of Times-Picayune has a helpful rundown.

It’s not clear whether not funding the hospitals — or having some close — would actually save Louisiana money. In fact, it could actually cost state government. Louisiana would lose about $168 million worth of lease payments from the operators, money that goes toward health care. LCMC would also likely take the state to court to get about $570 million in liquidated damages from the state for terminating its operator agreement. The only hospital that got any funding is in Alexandria, the area House Republican Caucus chairman and appropriations committee member Rep. Lance Harris represents. It received $2 million to help run a network of clinics for the poor and uninsured.


TOPS reform bill killed in the House

More than 50,000 college students in Louisiana receive TOPS scholarships, costing the state around $290 million this year. With the size and cost of the program increasing each year, lawmakers have been exploring ways to change the program to limit its scope. House Bill 413 by Rep. Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge would have raised the minimum academic standards for a TOPS Opportunity scholarship, the most common TOPS award. Current law requires a student have a 2.5 grade point average and score a 20 on their ACT to receive the TOPS Opportunity award, but under HB 413 this would have been increased to a 21 on the ACT and a 2.75 GPA.’s Wilborn P. Nobles III reports:

Under [Ivey’s] proposal, students who met the old GPA and ACT requirements would instead be eligible for the Transfer award, which would have offered the equivalent of a TOPS Tech award for the first two years of a student’s college education. Those students would be able to apply for an Opportunity award for their remaining two years of college, but only if they met certain criteria.

The House killed the bill in a 34-48 vote.


Farm Bill would harm low-income families

Louisiana has the highest rate of child food insecurity in the nation, according to the most recent data from the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Center. The first draft of the federal Farm Bill, which would reauthorize federal nutrition and agriculture programs for five years, would make this problem worse. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released a new report to highlight the impact of House Farm bill as passed by the house Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

SNAP is the country’s most effective anti-hunger program, helping 1 in 8 Americans afford a basic diet, with most SNAP participants being children, seniors, or people with disabilities. Despite providing modest benefits — averaging about $1.40 per person per meal — the program combats food insecurity, alleviates poverty, and has long-term positive impacts on health as well as on children’s educational attainment. Chairman Conaway’s proposal would reduce SNAP’s effectiveness and put large numbers of families and individuals at increased risk of hardship.

The punitive SNAP work requirements would not just hurt low-income families, but also the state budget, which would bear the burden of implementing substantial new programs:

In particular, the plan includes sweeping, aggressive new work requirements that would likely prove unworkable and do substantially more harm than good, fueling increases in hunger and poverty. These provisions would force states to develop large new bureaucracies, but research suggests that these requirements would do little to increase employment. This expensive and risky approach runs counter to evidence-based policy making, particularly since the results from work pilots established in the 2014 farm bill are not yet available. Moreover, experience suggests the proposed work requirements would leave substantial numbers of low-income people with various barriers to employment — such as very limited skills or mental health issues like depression — with neither earnings nor food assistance.


Work requirements and the working poor

A new report from The Urban Institute looks at the relationship between work and poverty as legislators debate the federal Farm Bill and the proposed requirement that people be forced to get a job as a condition of receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

These efforts are intended to move people out of poverty and into financial security. But the evidence shows that work requirements will do little to support this goal and that current funding for the nation’s primary workforce development programs falls short of the need.
Work alone is often not enough to move out of poverty. Many Americans work full time but remain in poverty and often need federal assistance to cover their families’ basic needs. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2015, 8.6 million Americans qualified as “working poor” or spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force but had income below the federal poverty level.

Although workforce development programs can help lift people out of poverty, The Urban Institute is skeptical of the Farm Bill’s ability to provide adequate training programs that would open the door to higher wages and better employment opportunities.

The administration would retain funding for apprenticeship training, which is one effective strategy, although it represents only a very small share of all training. But the White House’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal called for about a 40 percent cut in funding for all workforce development and employment services programs, which would have kept 7 to 8 million fewer people from getting help. Congress did not accept the cuts for fiscal year 2018 and instead reduced funding by only about 5 percent.


Number of the day 

$1.40 – the amount a family receives per person per meal with the average monthly SNAP benefit level. (Source: CBPP)