As Louisiana’s $31 billion state budget works its way through the Legislature, a relatively small budget gap could have an outsized effect on the most vulnerable children in Louisiana. The budget bills up for consideration today leave the state’s Department of Children and Family Services $2.9 million short of what they need to operate the food assistance program and maintain current levels of services for abused and vulnerable children. The gap would grow to $4.4 million if lawmakers approve legislation to let young adults stay in foster care until they turn 21. This shortfall comes on the heels of a 24 percent cut to the agency over the past decade, in inflation-adjusted dollars, during a time when food stamp caseloads and reports of child abuse and neglect have risen by 39 percent and 48 percent. Danny Mintz, LBP Anti-Hunger Policy Advocate, explains the importance of these services and how Louisiana can move forward:
The good news is that legislators have nearly a month left in the current session to add back the money that the agency needs. After the budget leaves the House, it will be taken up by the Senate, and then the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled before the bill can go to the governor’s desk. As the budget debate moves forward, lawmakers should ensure that the state has enough money to administer food benefits and provide child welfare services. They should also recognize that this constitutes a bare minimum, and that Louisiana’s unacceptable level of child poverty, and the abuse and neglect that come with it, is an ongoing crisis. Louisiana must make a serious investment in protecting its children at risk of harm and its families at risk of hunger so that all of Louisiana’s children have a meaningful chance at a bright future.
Louisiana redistricting needs to be ‘open, unbiased’
In 2021 Louisiana will redraw its legislative and congressional district maps. It’s the first redistricting process since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the requirement that district lines had to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department. Hilda Walker Thomas, president of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, writes in NOLA.com about the importance of citizen involvement in redistricting to guard against the type of political gerrymandering that favors politicians and party leaders over local communities.
To prevent such distortion, the League of Women Voters believes that redistricting at all levels of government must be accomplished in an open, unbiased manner with citizen participation and access at all levels and steps of the process. House Bill 504 seeks to ensure such openness by requiring measures to inform the public and gather public input. Redistricting is a complex process that is open to abuse if not conducted openly. The Reapportionment Transparency Act will help to ensure that Louisiana voters have confidence in the fairness of our elections and that their representatives recognize they are accountable to all of the voters in their districts.
House Bill 504 by Rep. A. B. Franklin died in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee this week on a mostly party-line vote. Stephen Kearny of Fair Districts Louisiana, writing in The Advocate, explains why the bill was important:
Citizens still have an opportunity to remain engaged in the redistricting process, including promoting a complete count in historically undercounted communities in Census 2020.
Helping students succeed by forgiving student debt
Student debt is an increasing burden for many young Americans who are just starting their careers, as state policymakers have shifted the cost of higher education from society at large to students and families. For students who attended some college but were unable to graduate—often due to work and family obligations—college debt is a double burden, leaving them with large bills but without a credential that would increase their earning potential. A new program in Michigan aims to make things a little easier by forgiving a portion of debt for those who left school without finishing and later came back to complete their degree. Andre Perry explains the policy in The Hechinger Report:
The debt-forgiveness program was announced at a gathering of organizations focused on improving higher education outcomes, hosted by the philanthropic Lumina Foundation. In a statement, the foundation explained that some student debt would be forgiven “if students enroll at any of the three institutions, stay current on new postsecondary financial obligations, and make progress toward their degree or certificate. Henry Ford, a community college, will forgive half of total outstanding debt, and Wayne State and Oakland, both four-year institutions, will each wipe out up to $1,500 of debt.” … Fifteen hundred dollars may not seem like a lot, especially compared to the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans that saddle 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in debt, but for many low-income students, even something as comparatively paltry as a library fine can amount to a week’s food budget.
The Louisiana legislature is considering Senate Bill 85 by Sen. Regina Barrow this session to eliminate the state sales tax on college textbooks in an effort to ease the burden on students. That bill awaits a hearing in the Senate Committee on Finance.
Medicaid must be part of the solution to addiction
Between 2015 and 2017, drug overdose deaths soared in Louisiana, as they did in many other states, due to the ongoing opioid crisis. In 2017, three people died of drug overdoses each day in Louisiana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, a new federal bill to help states better serve people with substance use disorders is making its way through Congress. If signed into law, it could help address what is increasingly a crisis in Louisiana. According to Peggy Bailey of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities the bill, by Rep. Elijah Cummings and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, would allow for improved integration of Medicaid and federal grant funding to help treat addiction:
The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has significantly increased insurance coverage for people with low incomes and substance use disorders in the 37 states (including Washington, D.C.) that have adopted the expansion. Medicaid can cover a significant share of substance use treatment and recovery services, including clinical care, counseling, and peer support services. With guaranteed funding, providers can predict revenue and make informed business decisions about providing services, expanding staff, and opening new locations. Medicaid can also respond to changing trends in drug use at the community level. … As the Cummings-Warren bill does, new legislation to address the opioid epidemic and broader substance misuse must maximize Medicaid and allow grant funding to pay for the services that Medicaid doesn’t cover, such as job skills training, life skills counseling, child care, and housing. That will give people with SUDs better access to the full array of services they need to stabilize their lives.
Number of the Day
10% – Net worth of black households as a portion of the net worth of white households. (Source: Federal Reserve Board, Survey of Consumer Finances)