Exorbitant fees from payday and car title loans drain more than $241,000,000 each year from Louisiana citizens, most of whom have low incomes. And our state is far from alone in its number of low-income residents driven into lasting, insurmountable debt by what the payday loan industry bills as a quick fix to a short term problem. That’s why in 2017 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wrote new rules for the industry aimed at stopping debt traps for consumers with limited financial resources. The rules were set to go into effect this summer, but now, The Washington Post’s Renae Merle reports, the CFPB has changed course, walking back protections for low-income consumers and giving a boost to the industry that profits from their need.
Under the existing rule, set to take effect in August, payday lenders would be required to take several steps to ensure borrowers can afford the loans they are being offered. The latest proposals would rescind that requirement and delay the rule’s implementation until 2020. The move is a big win for payday lenders. The industry feared the new regulations would force many of them to close their doors. Payday lenders aggressively lobbied lawmakers to block the rule last year and when that failed turned their attention to convincing the CFPB, now under the leadership of a Trump appointee, to change course. … Consumer advocates said the CFPB had gone too far. The changes would “unwind the core part” of payday regulations, said Richard Cordray, the bureau’s former director who finalized the rules in his final weeks in office. “It’s a bad move that will hurt the hardest-hit consumers. It should be and will be subject to a stiff legal challenge,” Cordray said on Twitter.
The Center for Responsible Lending’s Rebecca Borne summed things up nicely:
The CFPB, under a previous director, spent five years developing these consumer safeguards, taking input from lenders, faith leaders, veteran and military organizations, civil rights groups, consumer advocates, and consumers from across the country. But over the past year, payday lenders have spearheaded an effort, with Mick Mulvaney and now Kraninger’s help, to take consumer protections away from financially vulnerable Americans. We urge Director Kraninger to reconsider, as her current plan will keep families trapped in predatory, unaffordable debt.
Federal Medicaid agency isn’t following its own rules
Abundant evidence suggests that requiring Medicaid recipients to document a minimum number of working hours each month doesn’t actually promote employment and actively harms people who are living with poverty and who need medical care. In fact, these requirements have had disastrous consequences where they’ve been implemented. All evidence aside, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is pushing states to implement work requirements. And it turns out, they aren’t looking at the evidence at all. The Los Angeles Times’s Noam N. Levey reports:
None of the eight states that the administration has cleared to implement a Medicaid work requirement has in place a plan to track whether Medicaid enrollees find jobs or improve their health, two goals often touted by administration health officials. And nine of the 17 states that have sought federal permission to implement Medicaid work mandates have been allowed by the Trump administration to proceed with their applications despite failing to calculate the number of people who could lose coverage, according to a review of state and federal Medicaid records. … Critics say the administration and the states appear to be systematically ignoring or weakening the requirement for independent analysis, perhaps because they fear the results. “There is a lot of hiding the ball here,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, a research organization that is tracking the administration’s efforts to revamp Medicaid rules.
For more on how work requirements affect actual workers, check out a must-watch report by the PBS Newshour on how problems with Arkansas’s reporting system lost one employed man his job by erroneously ending his medical coverage, cutting off the medicine he needed to work. His story is one of thousands in that state.
New Orleans program helps families bridge the shutdown SNAP gap
The longest shutdown in U.S. history caused an unprecedented disruption to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that helps more than 850,000 people in Louisiana keep food on the table. To avoid a lapse in benefits, the state’s Department of Children and Family Services issued February benefits in mid-January, leaving recipients with a minimum gap of 43 days between benefits. For most program participants, SNAP benefits don’t last the month, leading many to skip meals in the last week before new benefits are issued. That’s why a program by the Crescent City Farmers Market that lets SNAP recipients double their dollars to buy fresh, local produce is particularly important this month. Marcia Clark at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune has the details:
The Market Match program will match every dollar a SNAP recipient spends at one of the farmers markets with a token worth a dollar up to $20 a day. So, if a shopper spends $20 of their SNAP benefits at one of the market locations, they will receive an additional $20 in tokens to spend on food. The tokens don’t expire so the shopper does not have to use them all during one trip to the farmer’s market, according to a press release. Louisiana SNAP recipients received their February benefits early on Jan. 16 due to the government shutdown and were told by federal authorities to budget carefully to make the benefits last until March. “Market Match helps fill the grocery gap for the city’s neediest residents,” Kathryn Parker, the executive director of Market Umbrella said in a press release. “We encourage anyone using SNAP to come to the Crescent City Farmers Market, where they can double their EBT purchases for fresh local produce to feed their families.”
Remembering ‘the Opera’
Virginia state politics are in turmoil this week after reports that Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring each wore blackface in the early 1980s (the state’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, faces an accusation of sexual assault dating to 2004). In Louisiana, as The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports, state legislators also wore blackface as part of a quadrennial parody show called “The Opera:”
The 1983 show was recounted by John Maginnis in his 1984 book “The Last Hayride” as a boozy, raucous celebration with a margarita machine. “The fun of the show is in the casting, as the black representatives are in white face, playing the most conservative reactionary legislators and vice versa,” Maginnis writes, describing one bit that featured long-time state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, who now serves on the state Ethics Board, dressed in blackface as the Rev. Avery Alexander, a civil rights leader who was one of the founding members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus after his election to the House in 1975. “(T)he crowd and cast, black and white, cheer the racist humor.”
Number of the Day
198 percent – Increase in the number of Louisiana Public School Students taking Advanced Placement tests between 2012 and 2018. More than 9.1 percent of the state’s students taking an AP test earn a high enough score on at least one test to receive college credit, up from 3.2 percent in 2008, but below the national average of 23.5 percent. (Sources: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, The College Board)