The Children of Central City

The Children of Central City

Simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring, the special project by a team of reporters and photographers at Times Picayune about children growing up in one of New Orleans most historic and most violent neighborhoods is a must-read.

Number of the Day

$1.4 billion - Total amount of federal SNAP benefits distributed to low-income Louisiana families (Source: Department of Children and Family Services)

Simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring, the special project by a team of reporters and photographers at Times Picayune about children growing up in one of New Orleans most historic and most violent neighborhoods is a must-read. The story revolves around two coaches’ attempt to give young boys in the neighborhood an outlet, a sense of stability and a feeling of camaraderie through the game of football and examines the long-term toll of childhood trauma. And despite the bonds they’ve built and lives they’ve impacted, the coaches still feel like they’re fighting against forces beyond their control:

At times, [former Coach Jerome] Temple’s sports-driven approach has been successful. Many former players have gone on to live productive lives, crediting the support he gave and the lessons he taught them. Temple is proud of these victories, but often feels as if he is fighting without the help he needs to make a lasting difference. State funding for mental health care, for example, was cut last year by nearly $50 million, including a wide range of programs targeting children suffering from trauma.  … Scientific research has shown that early exposure to traumatic events can alter the way children’s brains work, increasing their aggression and impulsiveness, and decreasing their ability to retain information, develop empathy and build self-esteem. The resulting behavior, if unrecognized and untreated, can lead to expulsion from school and juvenile incarceration, perpetuating the cycle of violence and poverty.

An accompanying editorial notes the impact of state budget cuts.

The state of Louisiana, led by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, has eviscerated mental health services for children over the past decade. New Orleans political leaders haven’t really made those services a priority, either. And only a handful of the city’s public schools are addressing, head-on and comprehensively, the needs of traumatized students. It’s not just politicians who lack the commitment to helping children recover from violence. The people of New Orleans haven’t demanded that it be a priority, either. Most of us don’t truly understand the problem. When children scarred by violence act out, the first response is to lock them up.


Another wrench in the gears
The Legislature’s job during next week’s special session should be very simple and limited: Pass enough revenue to pay for the $507 million in critical needs that aren’t funded in the budget bill that the Legislature passed and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law. Not so fast. As The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports, one Republican House leader has a different plan in mind:

(Rep. Cameron) Henry said he’s discussed with House staff the potential to use a supplemental budget bill to alter LDH’s funding, thought it’s unclear what exactly would be deemed within the scope of the governor’s session-calling proclamation, which sought to limit budget discussions to one segment of the budget that outlines how additional funds are to be distributed. “What I’m being told is we can do that,” Henry said, adding he does not plan to advocate an entirely new version of House Bill 1. “If members choose that they want to reduce an agency — a supplemental allows for that.” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said any attempts to re-litigate the budget that passed both the House and Senate, beyond plugging in additional funds via the formula contained in HB1, could be an unnecessary distraction in the 10-day session.

But two prominent Republicans who served in top cabinet positions under Gov. Bobby Jindal say it’s time for lawmakers to come together around a half-cent sales tax renewal. Paul Rainwater and Tim Barfield in The Advocate:

The bottom line is that we simply cannot afford to let the full sales tax expire on June 30. The renewal of one-half of the one penny sales tax that expires on June 30 is a compromise plan that would maintain $548 million in revenue to support critical priorities, while still reducing the tax burden on our people by more than $500 million. And this is in addition to strategic spending cuts of more than $200 million already passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor. We’ve been cutting and slashing and treading water for years budget-wise in Louisiana. And while this proposal doesn’t solve every problem our state has, it’s a good start down the path and better than anything else being offered.


Losing SNAP in Louisiana is “just nuts”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a lifeline for almost 1 million Louisianans, including 1 in 3 children in the state. The federal program provides low-income families with an average of $276 per month to spend on food in local grocery stores, making it both a vital anti-hunger program and a source of economic activity in some of the most economically-depressed areas of the state. All of that could disappear if members of the Louisiana House can’t find agreement on a revenue solution that would address the major cuts to state agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which administers SNAP in Louisiana. Times Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry:

“This is it. This is the reality of our budget. This is the only place it can happen,” [DCFS Secretary Marketa] Walters said Friday.  Her agency can’t respond to Republicans’ desired tax cuts by cutting child welfare services, such as foster care and protective custody for children.  So she would have to cut food stamps. “This is nuts,” Walters said. “The whole thing is just nuts.” It is, indeed. But it’s more than just nuts. It’s heartless and reckless.  The Republicans in the Legislature who are taking a hardline against raising the necessary revenue to fund the government are like those people who ignore the shrill warnings of meteorologists so they can stick around for a first-hand look at a hurricane.  You know those people: those who want to see the spectacle of destruction that only a hurricane can provide.

Taken aback by the insensitive and off-base comments readers left in reply to his initial column, DeBerry followed up with a second piece that debunks some of the myths surrounding SNAP and the families that depend on the program:

Some broadly accused the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,  as wasteful or turning a blind eye to fraud. But in fiscal year 2014, the last year for which we have statistics, Louisiana had an overpayment rate of 1.06 percent and an underpayment rate of 0.49 percent. That combined error rate of 1.55 percent was less than half the national average, which was 3.66 percent. What about people who are only pretending to be eligible for food stamps? They’re incredibly rare.  A 2015 report from the Center on Budget and Priorities, citing a quality control report from the USDA, notes that the “overwhelming majority of SNAP of errors appear to result from honest mistakes by recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks or computer programmers. States report that half of all overpayments and 90 percent of underpayments in recent years were their fault; most others resulted from innocent errors by households.”

Every Louisiana legislator has thousands of people who rely on SNAP in their district, two-thirds of which are children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Retailers in every legislative district also benefit from the federal dollars that flow through their stores each month. Click here for LBP’s analysis of the impact of SNAP by state legislative district.


Ranking prosperity
Prosperity Now is a DC-based nonprofit that advocates policies that promote wealth building and financial security for people of color and those with limited-incomes. The group released its annual 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard this week, which includes its traditional ranking of states, cities and metro areas on measures of economic prosperity. Louisiana ranked 50 out of 51 for the second year in a row and New Orleans fell in the bottom 10 of 64 major metropolitan areas on measures of financial stability and economic opportunity. This year, the group’s scorecard also includes a new feature: an analysis of economic prosperity in congressional districts and tribal areas, which will come in handy this election season:

With mid-term elections happening this November, this district-level data is a valuable resource for advocates to educate policymakers on the financial wellbeing of their district. Federal legislation has tremendous impact on the economic mobility of working families and lawmakers need quantitative data to support policy decisions. For example, using measures that illustrate households’ lack of savings and access to credit can be used to advocate against asset limits for
federal programs and for legislation to expand credit access through alternative data reporting.


Number of the Day
$1.4 billion – Total amount of federal SNAP benefits distributed to low-income Louisiana families (Source: Department of Children and Family Services)