Louisiana’s expansion of Medicaid has been an important tool for significantly improving health and well-being among low- and moderate-income Louisianans, enabling more people in our state to live fuller lives. But providing health care is far from the only role the state has in securing equal opportunities for health for all of its residents. A new study by Jennifer Sullivan at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that 40 percent of health outcomes are determined by social and economic conditions, which means that investments in equity and economic opportunity are also investments in the health of Louisianans:
Public investments and policies play a significant role in shaping the distribution of opportunities to be healthy. Access to clean air and water, affordable and safe housing, transit, high-quality education, economic opportunity, parks and places to exercise, nutritious foods, and reliable public health infrastructure, in addition to high-quality, affordable health care, can all affect health. Moreover, the interaction between these factors further influences health. Policymakers play a considerable role in determining whether and where these conditions exist. For example, while individual behaviors like a nutritious diet and active lifestyle are important for health, policies shape where people can afford to live and whether those places are served by grocery stores with fresh foods, public transit that reduces car-dependence, and public parks and recreation spaces that provide safe places to be active. To dramatically improve health and eliminate health inequities, states and localities must also consider how the policies they implement come together to enable, or hinder, health.
The case for a $15 an hour wage floor
As Louisiana debates a state minimum wage modestly above the current national level of $7.25 an hour ($15,080 a year, before taxes, for a worker able to find 40 hours of work per week every week in the year), lawmakers in Washington are considering a more ambitious proposal to raise the national wage floor to $15 an hour by 2024. A new analysis by David Cooper with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that this change would benefit 39.7 million workers nationwide, including the parents of 14.4 million children. As Cooper explains, any federal increase would be a boost for low-wage workers, as the current wage rate has lost nearly fifteen percent of its value since it was enacted a decade ago:
In 2018, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 was worth 14.8 percent less than when it was last raised in 2009, after adjusting for inflation, and 28.6 percent below its peak value in 1968, when the minimum wage was the equivalent of $10.15 in 2018 dollars. This decline in purchasing power means low-wage workers have to work longer hours now just to achieve the standard of living that was considered the bare minimum half a century ago. Since the 1960s, the United States has achieved tremendous improvements in labor productivity that could have allowed workers at all pay levels to enjoy a significantly improved quality of life (Bivens et al. 2014). Instead, because of policymakers’ failure to preserve this basic labor standard, a parent who is the sole breadwinner for her family and who is earning the minimum wage today does not earn enough through full-time work to bring her family above the federal poverty line. Restoring the value of the minimum wage to at least the same level it was at a generation ago should be uncontroversial. But such a raise would be insufficient. The technological progress and productivity improvements that the country has achieved over the last 50 years have not benefited all of America’s workers. This means lawmakers must strive to enact minimum wage increases that are bolder than the typical legislated increases in recent decades.
EPI estimates that nearly half of all working women in Louisiana (46.9 percent) would see a pay increase under the $15 an hour proposal.
Tapping the brakes on police property seizures
In a unanimous decision on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court tapped the brakes on the controversial practice known as “civil asset forfeiture,” in which law enforcement officials seize property used in the commission of a crime before a determination of guilt. Critics across the political spectrum contend that the practice, which allows agencies to use seized assets to fund their own operations, is ripe for abuse. But as Route Fifty’s Bill Lucia reports, the ruling in the delightfully named Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana is only the first step in what is likely to be a series of legal challenges:
The decision in the case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana does not outlaw “civil asset forfeiture” or outline a formula for determining when fines might be too severe. But it does broaden the pathway for possible legal challenges in these areas. State and local fine, fee and property forfeiture policies have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with critics saying they are prone to misuse and can be particularly burdensome for poor and minority communities. “We still have a long way to go,” Neil Sobol, a professor at Texas A&M University’s school of law, who has written about abuses involving criminal justice debt, said as he discussed the court decision. “The people that don’t have the ability to fight it, they’re the ones that are the most at risk,” he added. “This does give them another tool.”
Who will pay the interest on New Orleans’ levees?
After Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fortified 350 miles of levees around New Orleans to protect the city when the next major storm hits. Now, as the state’s share of payments for the protective structures are coming due, state officials are looking to negotiate relief from interest on that debt. The outcome of these conversations will be meaningful to state finances in the decades to come. Nola.com|The Times-Picayune’s Sara Sneath has the story:
Louisiana officials are asking the federal government to forgive the interest on $1.1 billion the state owes for its cost share of the New Orleans area levee system rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. If successful, the move could save Louisianians nearly $2 billion in interest as the state repays the principal over the next three decades. The levee system’s overhaul cost more than $20 billion and included 350 miles of levees, flood walls, gates and pumps. The state is expected to make its first of 30 annual payments on the $1.1 billion debt during the third quarter of 2020. But adding the interest over the course of those payments the state would end up paying a total $3 billion, said Chip Kline, Chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. That number includes $519 million in interest accrued during construction of the levee system.
More stability for TOPS funding?
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is scheduled to present its spending recommendations to the Legislature on Friday. While this is only the start of the annual legislative debate on the state budget, WAFB-TV’s Matt Houston reports that the popular TOPS college scholarship program appears to be safe from proposed cuts. A legislative committee looking at various dedicated funds in the budget – including tobacco settlement proceeds that are set aside for TOPS – recommended no changes to that fund, which suggests lawmakers do not wish to tamper with the program after years of funding challenges.
The committee could have recommended legislation that would have diverted the settlement to the state general fund, but instead chose to retain the constitutional dedication with little discussion and no debate. “I think there’s been a commitment from legislators on both sides of the aisle to prioritize TOPS and higher education funding, so I would not expect any surprises coming from the budget or the legislature this session,” said Louisiana Budget Project Public Affairs Coordinator Davante Lewis. For the first time in almost a decade, TOPS is not expected to be on the chopping block during the next legislative session. Last summer, lawmakers passed a tax compromise that stabilized the state’s budget until 2025.
Number of the Day
$2,639,147 – Value of money and property seized by Louisiana law enforcement authorities through civil forfeiture in 2018. The Kenner Police Department took home the largest share of seized property, valued at $590,246. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)