Legislature does not look like the people it represents
Public administrators have studied representative democracy for years, and the general consensus is that government works better when it looks like the people it serves. Chelsea Brasted of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune evaluated the Louisiana Legislature to see how closely it resembles the demographics of registered voters in this state. Her conclusion? We have a long way to go:
So, I took that data and compared it to what’s available from the Louisiana House, Louisiana Senate and other public records, including legislators’ own voter registrations. I don’t think this’ll come as a shock: We can do better. The data shows women and minorities aren’t represented as fairly as they could be. The good news is we can change that. Maybe not all at once — legislative elections aren’t until next year, save for a few exceptions — but we do have the power to make sure the people who speak for Louisiana speak for who and what we are, too.
According to Brasted, Louisiana’s Senate would need 16 more women to represent registered voters, the House would need 12 more people of color,and 23 more people under the age of 35 to reflect the voting population.
Lack of internet access an obstacle to report completed work hours
Many states have considered or enacted policies that make work a condition of enrollment in Medicaid, disregarding the bulk of research that shows work requirements are little more than an unnecessary barrier to families in need. A Medicaid work requirement in Arkansas has led to 8,462 people losing health insurance coverage for non-compliance. This drop off does not necessarily indicate that these people are not working, but instead may have a difficult time proving that they completing required hours due to limited internet access. The Urban Institute’s Anuj Gangopadhyaya, Emily M. Johnston, Genevieve M. Kenney, and Stephen Zuckerman discuss how internet access impacts enrollees:
The state emphasizes an online portal as the primary means for Medicaid enrollees to report their completed work hours or qualifying exemptions, but our analysis finds that 18 percent of Arkansans lack internet access in their homes, including access through a cell phone. Internet access is especially limited among low-income households, Medicaid enrollees, and households in the southern regions of the state. … Findings from interviews of 18 Medicaid enrollees in August in Craighead, Greene, and Randolph counties found that enrollees had low awareness of the work requirements program and that enrollees were concerned about using the online system due to not having a computer or a smart phone. No enrollees in these interviews were aware of the registered reporter option for reporting work or other qualifying community engagement hours.
In Louisiana, 16.7 percent of the population does not have home internet access, just slightly better than Arkansas’ 17.8 percent.
Local communities pressed to solve mental health, with little federal assistance
If states and local governments are combating mental health problems within their community, they should not wait for the federal government to do something about it. A summit held by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy pushed for communities to tackle mental health at the local level and apply for assistance through federal grants. Unfortunately, the federal dollars discussed for mental health services would not be adequate, and local governments would likely have to find large chunks of money for mental health services elsewhere. Steve Hardy of The Advocate has more:
Asked in an interview about the Bridge Center, Cassidy said that if communities don’t pay for treatment, they pay for higher costs associated with incarceration and officers’ lost time. Providing mental health service turns residents who consume tax dollars into those who generate tax dollars, he continued. Furthermore, communities need to prove they’ve got some skin in the game and leverage local dollars to collect federal grant assistance. Speakers encouraged locals to seek grants, though the numbers they cited weren’t always heartening. The Department of Justice attended the summit and distributed literature trumpeting that their mental health program has disbursed $98 million dollars, though that’s the total amount they’ve provided since 2006 and it was split among 435 jurisdictions.
Safe Haven, a mental health services facility in St. Tammany parish, gets $313,000 from the local government and recently received a federal grant in addition to their local funding. While this is good news for St. Tammany, the vast majority of parishes in Louisiana have less tax revenue and less individual wealth than St. Tammany – and therefore may have a more difficult time addressing the crisis independently.
Louisiana unprepared for next recession
Rainy day funds, which act as an emergency savings account for state government, have proven useful over the years as they have helped states stay afloat during recessions without significantly cutting programs or significantly raising taxes. Unfortunately, many states have not built up these reserves in preparation for the next big recession – and Louisiana is one of the furthest behind. Liz McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has more:
About a third of states are unprepared for even a moderate downturn, reports from these rating agencies find. (See map.) And if the nation faces another severe downturn — one that affects state budgets as much as the Great Recession did — only 14 states are prepared, according to Moody’s. Moreover, whether the next recession is moderate or severe, the federal government may be less helpful in reviving state economies, as growing federal deficits fueled in part by the 2017 tax law could make policymakers less willing to give states more funds to help offset their own budget problems.
To become better prepared, McNichol recommends that states put money aside during good fiscal years, “integrate rainy day fund transfers into the budget as part of an overall reserve policy,” loosen caps on rainy day funds, and remove barriers that make it unnecessarily hard to tap these funds during legitimate need.
Number of the day
25 – Percentage of Louisiana households either do not have a computer or have a computer but no reliable internet service. (Source: 2017 American Community Survey)