A small boost for higher education?

A small boost for higher education?

Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking for an additional $19 million for higher education in the current-year state budget. The money would help alleviate accreditation problems that institutions are facing due to financial instability and fill a shortfall in TOPS scholarship program due to higher-than-expected enrollment. But the additional funding depends on House Speaker Taylor Barras agreeing to update the state’s official revenue forecast. Without that, the state’s only public pharmacy program – at the University of Louisiana – Monroe – could be forced to close its doors. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

Under the governor’s proposal, $3 million would be steered to online resources for students, such as electronic textbooks, an initiative that Regents spokeswoman Meg Casper Sunstrom said seeks to reduce costs for students who have seen tuition and fees grow. Another $5 million would give cash influxes to three campuses under accreditation review, amid concerns they are at risk of losing the validation standard. The schools include Northshore Technical Community College, Central Louisiana Technical Community College and the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s pharmacy school. House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry questioned the accreditation-related spending during a joint House and Senate budget hearing Tuesday. He said the schools should try to “rework their business model.”


Federal minimum wage should be a floor
The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009. The new House majority recently introduced the Raise the Wage Act to establish a $15 minimum wage by 2024. But it comes with a provision that adjusts the minimum wage to reflect regional economies. Such a regional adjustment would hurt poor people in the South and women of color at a disproportionate level. Economic Policy Institute, AFLCIO, Center for American Progress, SEIU, National Women’s Law Center and National Employment Law Project’s fact sheet chime in to explain why this provision is bad for Southern workers and Southern economies:

Workers in the South would disproportionately suffer under the regional proposal, with Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Idaho, Oklahoma, and West Virginia losing the most. Workers in those states would lose between $2,200 and $2,700 per year compared with the raises under the RTWA.Contrary to what opponents say, a federal minimum wage of $15 by 2024 is actually quite modest—it’s not a “radical” wage that’s only appropriate in high-cost-of-living coastal states. Fifteen dollars an hour in 2024 is the equivalent of roughly $12.98 in today’s dollars. As of today, there is not one county in America where a single individual, even without children, can have a secure standard of living working full-time, year-round at $12.98 per hour. (EPI’s family budget calculator confirms this.) Thus, even $15 in 2024 would be inadequate for ensuring a modest but secure standard of living—but it would be dramatically better than the current minimum wage.


Being sick is bankrupting Americans
Despite recent progress in health coverage brought on by the Affordable Care Act, getting sick in America can still be a lifetime debt sentence. Take the case of Vanessa Lockett, a 57-year-old uninsured Atlanta resident who racked up over $30,000 in bills from an ambulance ride and one-day emergency room visit. Lockett was able to negotiate a lower bill for her emergency care, but others aren’t as lucky, and no one should have to depend on luck to keep them from a medical bankruptcy. Olga Khazan of The Atlantic has more on the cost of getting sick:

Medical debt is a uniquely American phenomenon, a burden that would be unfathomable in many other developed countries. According to a survey published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, nearly 60 percent of people who have filed for bankruptcy said a medical expense “very much” or “somewhat” contributed to their bankruptcy. That was more than the percentage who cited home foreclosure or student loans. (The survey respondents could choose multiple factors that contributed to their bankruptcy.)The finding was only the latest in a long string of statistics suggesting that many Americans who have faced major health scares face significant financial setbacks afterward. A 2016 study found that a third of cancer survivors had gone into debt as a result of their medical expenses, and 3 percent had filed for bankruptcy. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study from 2014, medical bills are the most common cause of unpaid bills sent to collection agencies. About a fifth of Americans have a medical claim on their credit report, and the same proportion currently has a medical bill overdue.


The reality of Rural America
Much has been made of the burgeoning economic inequality in America. But relatively little attention has been paid to the crisis in rural America. Changing economic realities have led to decreasing employment opportunities and high rates of suicide and depression outside of the country’s cities and suburbs. There is no easy fix for a problem that leaves millions of Americans—and hundreds of thousands of Louisianans—facing increasing barriers to opportunity and well-being in their rural communities. The New York Times’ opinion columnist Paul Krugman explains the challenges in reversing the decline in America’s countryside:

[T]he gravitational pull of big cities used to be counteracted by the need to locate farming where the good land was. In 1950 U.S. agriculture directly employed more than six million people; these farmers supported a network of small towns providing local services, and some of these small towns served as seeds around which various specialized industries grew. Nor was farming the only activity giving people a reason to live far from major metropolitan areas. There were, for example, almost half a million coal miners. Even then, rural areas and small towns weren’t the “real America,” somehow morally superior to the rest of us. But they were a major part of the demographic, social and cultural landscape. Since then, however, while America’s population has doubled, the number of farmers has fallen by two-thirds. There are only around 50,000 coal miners. The incentives for business to locate far from the metropolitan action have greatly diminished. And the people still living in rural areas increasingly feel left behind. Some of the consequences have been tragic. Not that long ago we used to think of social collapse as an inner-city problem. Nowadays phenomena like the prevalence of jobless men in their prime working years, or worse yet, the surge in “deaths of despair” by drugs, alcohol or suicide are concentrated in declining rural areas.


Number of the Day
12 – The number of days Louisiana could operate on only Rainy Day funds in FY18. (Source: Pew Trust)